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Giuliani’s Reported $20,000-per-Day Fee ‘Makes Him Closer to a Highway Robber Than a Senior Counsel,’ Legal Ethics Scholar Says


President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has asked for $20,000-per-day to lead the Trump campaign’s legal efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The detail immediately had attorneys and legal ethics experts questioning how Giuliani could charge such an “astronomical” sum—particularly since his experience as a former federal prosecutor who later ran a security consulting business does not make him an expert in election law.

The former New York City mayor took control of Trump’s multiple legal challenges last Friday after attorneys from Washington D.C.-based law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur submitted court documents to withdraw from the campaign’s federal lawsuit challenging the election results in Pennsylvania where President-elect Joe Biden’s lead has ballooned to roughly 70,000.

Giuliani himself joined that federal case on Tuesday, making oral arguments.

According to the Times story, which was sourced from multiple people said to have been briefed on the matter, Giuliani’s proposed remuneration caused a stir among Trump’s camp, with many believing the campaign would not be shelling out nearly that much for legal representation.

While Giuliani’s precise compensation is not yet known, the former New York City mayor “strenuously denied” reports that he requested the $20,000 figure when contacted by the Times, claiming anyone who told them that was “a complete liar.”

“I never asked for $20,000,” Giuliani said, adding that President Trump assured him he would be compensated after the election lawsuits concluded. “The arrangement is, we’ll work it out at the end.”

Attorneys and at least one of the nation’s leading legal ethics scholars said the report regarding Giuliani’s requested pay raised red flags.

“A lawyer may charge a daily fee for work in the courtroom and a few U.S. lawyers can perhaps command almost that much, but those situations envision full days in court and then preparation for the next day. Otherwise, lawyers who charge for time bill hourly, not daily,” Stephen Gillers, the Elihu Root Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, told Law&Crime. The legal ethics expert also said that Giuliani isn’t likely to be in court many full days.

Gillers also emphasized that Giuliani—who hasn’t appeared in federal court since 1992—isn’t prepared to for the role he’s taking on.

“Further, Rudy Giuliani is no longer a trial lawyer, as he once was, meaning he has no recent or even remote experience trying cases and no experience in state election law. So basically he’s a novice,” he said. “$20,000 daily for a novice makes him closer to a highway robber than a senior counsel. Lawyers are forbidden by ethics rules to charge ‘unreasonable’ fees or ‘clearly excessive’ fees, the exact test varies with jurisdictions. I’d say that Giuliani’s reported daily trial fee fails the ethics test.”

“Someone should tell his client,” Gillers added.

Giuliani entered his first appearance on behalf of the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania’s U.S. District Court on Tuesday. Law&Crime Senior Investigative Reporter Adam Klasfeld’s account of the proceeding thus far suggests that Gillers’s take was on the mark (follow Klasfeld’s thread here).

Similarly, Carissa Byrne Hessick, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina and director of the Prosecutors and Politics Project, called Giuliani a “gift to legal ethics professors.”

“Rudy Giuliani is the gift to legal ethics professors that just keeps on giving,” she said.

“Charging astronomical rates for work–especially work for which the attorney does not have deep expertise or ability—is an ethics violation,” Prof. Hessick wrote, linking to American Bar Association Rule 1.5 regarding attorney’s fees. “And it is important to note that Rudy is not an election lawyer.  So the idea that he could charge $20K a day—a rate which makes my eyes bleed–to step in and litigate these cases is just ridiculous. (And this is actually the sort of ethics rule that state bars enforce!)”

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.