Debevoise Sues Client For More Than $6 Million In Unpaid Bills

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Firms usually see suing a client as a last-ditch scenario. It’s bad PR, it brings your work under a microscope and invites malpractice claims.

But Debevoise & Plimpton apparently decided more than $6 million in unpaid fees was too much, and sued its former client Candlewood Timber in New York state court.

Nate Raymond of The New York Law Journal has a full review, but here is a quick breakdown:


  • As trial approached, Candlewood hired Debevoise to handle litigation related to rain forest damage in Argentina; another firm handled the beginning phases of the litigation
  • The engagement letter said Debevoise would be paid partially by the hour, and partially on contingency 
  • Debevoise said it worked at “breakneck speed” to prepare for trial, including needing to depose more than 40 witnesses with trial months away;
  • Candlewood, on the other hand, said it thought discovery would be limited;
  • THe NLJ cites Candlewood’s legal documents saying that, over 8 months, Debevoise had 50 lawyers on the case who billed more than 10,000 hours at an average of $600 per hour;
  • A former lawyer for Candlewood also said in an affirmation that Debevoise’s legal work was “subpar” and that they put associates with “no apparent skill” on the case;
  • Debevoise said it gave Candlewood the option to switch to a more contingency-based plan, but that Candlewood declined; 
  • Debevoise also said Candelwood’s principal demanded they do an expensive mock trial and that Candlewood was paying none of its vendors, not just not paying Debevoise;
  • Candlewood eventually brought in Susman Godfrey to handle the May 2006 trial; Debevoise said it remained on as co-counsel;
  • The jury returned a verdict, but the parties settled before it was announced
  • Debevoise tried for over a year after the trial to get Candlewood to pay its bills.


In other words, this one sounds like it could get ugly. 

The article said only three Susman lawyers, including co-founder Steve Susman and his son, partner Harry Susman, worked on the matter. The relationship between Susman and Candlewood appears to be on better terms — Harry Susman lists Candlewood principal Jeff Kossak as a reference.

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