Legal Costs Going Up

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 25, 2023

Morro Bay’s contract attorneys will be getting a slight bump in rates after the City Council approved a new contract amendment for the firm, Aleshire & Wynder, LLP (A&W).

A&W, based in El Segundo, was brought into the City after former City Attorney Rob Schultz was forced out along with the former city manager in 2014. Its contract has been changed six times (now seven).

A&W was initially an interim replacement but the following December (2014), it had the “interim” marker changed and was given a full time contract. 

In June 2015, the City Council changed to a once-a-year evaluation schedule and in January 2019, Chris Neumeyer took over as the City’s lead attorney at the firm. He replaced Joe Pannone the original A&W attorney that replaced Schultz. 

The contract rates have been adjusted upward three times since June 2018 when the hourly rates were increased by $10. A 7% increase came in 2021 and in 2022 it was increased by another 9%.

This latest 3% increase in specialty legal costs is the same as the Council gave to its employees in contract negotiations, according to the report.

A&W’s base rate for “general legal services” remains $190 per hour for the first 50 hours a month, according to the report. It charges $210 an hour for all work over 50 hours for general legal services. It charges $210 an hour “for all special services legal work,” reads a report from the former interim City Manager, Greg Carpenter. 

“General legal services include routine city attorney work such as drafting contracts, preparing routine ordinances and resolutions, attending Council meetings, providing legal advice to Council members and City staff, legal review of Council agenda items and similar general legal work. 

“Special services include specialized legal work for matters such as labor negotiations, public finance, litigation, personnel matters, rent control, assessments and real estate.” 

A&W is a large law firm that has municipal contracts up and down the state from San Diego to San Francisco. 

Those rates are apparently a bargain compared to what other local cities are paying.

“Six of the seven cities in SLO County,” the report said, “contract with a firm for legal services [the exception being the City of San Luis Obispo]. The average blended [i.e., associate and partner rates together] hourly rate for special legal services at the other cities in the County who contract with a full-service firm like A&W for legal services is $301/hour, and the average partner rate for special legal services is $312/hour.”

It’s that specialized legal work, which represents about 30% of A&W’s total work in the city, that is being increased. “The new hourly rate for special services legal work is proposed to be $256/hour. The rates for general legal services work are not proposed for an increase and remain at $190/hour for the first 50 hours of monthly legal work and $210/hour for legal work over 50 hours each month.

“The proposed rates remain below average for the other cities in the County with full-service law firms.”

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