Dissolution of a relationship gets complicated for high-priced divorce attorney
Glenn C. Lewis is an acknowledged titan of the D.C. area divorce bar, a former president of the Virginia Bar Association who boasts that he is the most expensive lawyer in the region: $850 an hour. He has an impressive office in the District and an array of high-profile clients.
So it fascinated the Fairfax County courthouse when Lewis sued one of his former clients for an additional $500,000 in fees and interest, although he'd already been paid $378,000.
The fascinating part was that the client, a lawyer himself, fired back. He hired another former state bar president, Bernard J. DiMuro, who dug through Lewis's billing records and hired two more divorce bar giants - including another former state bar president - as his experts. The experts said Lewis had done a poor job and didn't deserve nearly $900,000 for his work.
In Fairfax Circuit Court on Friday, Lewis capitulated. He agreed to pay his former client more than $102,000, including $25,000 in sanctions imposed on Lewis's lawyers for defying pretrial orders. Lewis even failed to show up for his own deposition.
Lewis, who for years hosted his own cable access television show and who was given a lifetime achievement award from the Virginia State Bar's family law section, remains unrepentant. His final bill for the divorce of Steve Firestone was $627,000, and he sought an additional $253,000 in interest for the case, which ended in 2004 without a trial less than a year from the time it was filed.
"He owed us more than that," Lewis said in an interview last week. "We earned more than that. I feel as strongly today as I did the day we filed [suit], that Mr. Firestone owed every penny of it."
Firestone said, "I thought that what I paid was egregiously high," and he stopped paying shortly before his divorce was finalized. Then he received the lawsuit seeking another $500,000 five years later.
"I was shocked," Firestone said. "If he won, we were going to be out on the street."
Firestone hired DiMuro, who doesn't do divorce law. But DiMuro obtained Lewis's billing records and the records of the divorce, which he then handed over to Joseph Condo and Robert Shoun, two longtime family law practitioners.
Their conclusion: Not only were Lewis's bills "flagrantly disproportionate to the value of the dispute," DiMuro said, but Lewis's settlement was a lousy deal. Firestone, through DiMuro, pursued Lewis for legal malpractice.
Firestone's ex-wife had used Fairfax attorney David L. Duff for the divorce. Duff's total bill: $73,000.
DiMuro noted that three lawyers from Lewis's firm worked on Firestone's case, and two lawyers often appeared at meetings or depositions that would normally be handled by one lawyer. In 2003, Lewis was only billing $575 an hour, while two young associates billed at rates closer to $250 an hour.