ATRA releases study, calls for outside counsel reform

John O'Brien Feb. 18, 2010, 6:33am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The American Tort Reform Association says the country's state attorneys general have the opportunity to reform the way they handle contracts with private law firms.

The National Association of Attorneys General has already established a committee to probe problems with outside counsel relationships, and that the committee should offer a complete set of best practices for NAAG's Spring Meeting, which begins March 1.

The ATRA on Tuesday released a study of the statutes governing the practice of hiring private attorneys to represent an attorney general's office in all 50 states.

The foreword was written by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said he strongly supports transparency reforms sponsored by the ATRA.

"But there is always room for improvement, so we will continue working with ATRA to ensure that the taxpayers benefit from a transparent hiring process and receive the highest quality legal representation," Abbott wrote.

The report graded each state on each the five principles supported by ATRA's Transparency Code: Disclosure, value, oversight, reporting and accountability.

Overall, half the states received a "D" from ATRA, while three received an "A" and nine received an "F".

Kansas, Minnesota and Texas received the highest marks. Texas was singled out for requiring all state agencies to use a competitive bidding process for contracts.

States receiving an "F" were Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.

"With increasing regularity, some state attorneys general are hiring personal injury lawyers from the private sector to perform legal work for the state, often involving lucrative contingency fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds," Joyce said.

"Abusive use of outside counsel by some state attorneys general is well-documented, as political supporters reap windfall rewards from no-bid state contracts with little or no public accountability or the checks-and-balances state governments should provide."

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