Traditionally, law schools acted as the training ground for trial attorneys. Do you really need to know the rules of evidence if you’re going into transactional work? No, but tradition is tradition. Over time, more non-traditional classes have been added to curricula acknowledging that not all law school graduates go on to do their best Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law impersonations.
Mediation has been a significant addition to the law student repertoire. One of the big selling points of mediation is that it helps the parties recognize that court may not be the best solution to their problems; the process is costly, takes a lot of time, and you may discover that the damages you end up being awarded are nowhere near what you expected at the onset. Take, for example, an antitrust case between American Airlines and Sabre. From Reuters:
Law firm O’Melveny & Myers has asked a Manhattan federal judge to award more than $139 million in legal fees to American Airlines after its $1 trial victory in a case accusing flight booking company Sabre of anticompetitive practices.
O’Melveny attorneys said in a filing on Friday that the court win last year “was the culmination of a risky, hard-fought, decade-long battle.” Neither side appealed the verdict.
[S]abre lost its bid to block O’Melveny from seeking any fees at all. Sabre had argued American Airlines was not entitled to millions of dollars in legal fees after winning $1 in nominal damages.
I’m no economist, but this reads as a very poor return on investment. And while they did their best to mitigate the justifications for why they should be on the hook for lawyer’s fees:
Sabre is expected to argue that American Airlines did not win on all of its claims and therefore should not be awarded all of its legal fees since 2011. In its filing, American Airlines’ lawyers said the lawsuit’s claims were “inextricably intertwined.” The attorneys also defended the reasonableness of their hourly rates.
I highly doubt that, after investing over a decade into this matter, the attorneys are going to walk away with nothing — especially after the attempt to block O’Melveny from getting anything failed. A verdict that returns pennies on the dollar would still be orders of magnitude higher than the dollar the case ended up paying out. Knowing when and why to resolve legal matters out of a courtroom is a difficult and expensive skill to develop — best to do it on another person’s dime. You might want to keep this case in the back of your mind when you ask yourself the question that more people should ask themselves when they are in the middle of a conflict: will the outcome really be worth my input?
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.