Susan Jane Brown posted about this webinar a while back. I was driving and listened in, except for when the call dropped, so I missed some of the Q&A. I thought Susan Jane Brown did an excellent job of explaining how cooperative groups can get involved, among a variety of other topics. She was clear, accurate and easy to understand in explaining a complex topic- not an easy thing to do. Sustainable Northwest put on the webinar, so thanks to them!
She has an informative discussion about the roles and difficulties of collaboratives becoming Amicus curiae and even how to hire an attorney.
In general, some things collaborative groups may want to consider when retaining a lawyer include:
• Cost. Pro bono and reduced cost attorneys are not the norm, and most lawyers will want to be paid for their representation. As mentioned previously, most private attorneys charge their clients based on hourly rates, and will vary based on experience, expertise, and location (for example, an attorney in John Day, Oregon who does not specialize in environmental litigation and recently graduated from law school will charge a much different rate than a Washington, DC lawyer who has been practicing natural resources law before the Supreme Court for 40 years). You should always ask prospective attorneys about their hourly rates.
• Expertise. Experience with federal environmental law is extremely useful in litigation of the type discussed in this memo, but not necessary. Simply because a prospective attorney has little experience with environmental or natural resources law does not mean they will not be able to competently and zealously represent a collaborative group in litigation. Nevertheless, familiarity with the issues common to this type of litigation is a relevant consideration.
• Scope of representation. When engaging an attorney, it is critical to know what you are getting for your money and time. Will the attorney represent the collaborative group in just the district court, or on appeal if the Forest Service loses the case? Will the attorney engage in any post-litigation work, such as review of settlement agreements? What happens if the attorney puts in more work than expected: is the collaborative group responsible for paying the attorney for that additional work? Must the collaborative group pay for any time the attorney’s clerk spends writing a brief? These are some of the questions you should ask prospective attorneys about what they will be doing for your collaborative group. After these discussions, your attorney will prepare an attorney-client representation agreement that will set out in writing the rights and responsibilities of both the client and the attorney.
• Personality. As collaborative groups know, it is all about relationships. Whether you like and can get along with a prospective attorney is an extremely important consideration, given that you may be spending substantial time with that person, not to mention paying them for an important service: representing you on an issue in which you are heavily invested. Someone may be an excellent attorney but an impossible person.
It all sounds very expensive (and difficult to become an effective Amicus curiae). I wonder whether collaborative groups have approached foundations about support for legal costs? I know the larger foundations do fund environmental groups. I also wonder if when the policy landscape favors litigation as a policy tool, policies tend to be unduly influenced by well-intentioned but distant rich people?