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How big are Jian Ghomeshi’s legal bills going to be?

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Jian Ghomeshi must have put a few bucks in the bank from his days in the indie rock band Moxy Früvous, and later as a star CBC radio host.

You need deep pockets to pay for the high-powered legal help he has in Marie Henein for his ongoing trial involving four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

Some estimates say that Ghomeshi’s final bill could go well over half a million dollars.

Henein is an impressive criminal lawyer with an hourly rate to match. A Toronto Life article says that the “lawyer’s lawyer” charges $800 to $1000 an hour defending professionals in trouble with their regulatory bodies.

Is that the hourly rate Jian Ghomeshi is paying? It’s impossible to say for sure, but we know that high-profile cases involving top lawyers can get expensive fast. Consider former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant’s costs after a deadly incident in 2009 involving a bike courier. Henein handled his defense and got the charges dropped. Afterwards, Bryant claimed to owe $300,000 in legal fees for the case and his subsequent divorce.

Minor league hockey coach Dave Frost’s defense in 2008 against 12 counts of sexual exploitation in 2008 set him back $200,000, a bill that will surely seem cheap compared to what Henein charges, says Michael Scott, a partner at Patterson Law in Halifax and head of the firm’s criminal law department

The Bill

Tom Rees, Managing Partner at Tom Rees & Co. in Winnipeg, speculates on how the bill could add up:

“Per hour in court, lawyers spend between three and ten hours of preparation,” Rees says.

For example: a 19-day trial, at six hours per day, with eight hours of preparation per hour, that’s 912 billable hours. On top of that, there will be disclosure involving videotaped statements that can last hours, plus reading transcribe and police reports — that can total 50-100 hours.

Talking to Jian will be intensive, perhaps three days of intensive questioning — 50 hours. Add in legal research, preparing for evidentiary issues, and other trial preparation and the bill could climb as high as $500,000 to $800,000.

“A lawyer who is charging that much will typically slash the bill to a number everybody can live with,” says Rees.

Michael Oykhman, a partner in the Calgary criminal defence law firm Savage Oykhman, has a higher estimate. He says in an email that he wouldn’t be surprised at a rate of $800 to $1000 per hour, although there is a tendency to bill a flat rate per day in criminal matters.

A rate of $1,000/h yields an annual income of about $2-million, so a flat rate could be determined by billing for the portion of the year needed, he says.

“I think $200,000 to 300,000 is a fairly conservative estimate,” says Oykhman. “With so much on the line, and if money is not really a determining factor for him, I would not be surprised if the fees in this case were in the range of $500,000.”

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[Jian Ghomeshi’s lawyer Marie Henein arriving in court]

Ghomeshi’s Income

Is money an issue for Ghomeshi. Given that he’s now unemployed, and has been since October 2014, one would assume yes. CBC releases salaries of its top on-air personalities — but without corresponding names. In 2014 the top four earned an average of about $485,000 and the next six took home between $250,000 and $299,000. There were nine employees in the $200-$249,000 range.

It’s a reasonable conclusion that the host of the radio program Q, which was also widely syndicated in the U.S., was in a top tax bracket thanks to his day job with the Canadian public broadcaster.

He also had a music production company, Jian Ghomeshi Productions Inc., wrote a book and appeared regularly on CBC TV.

So he likely went into this case with reasonably deep pockets… which would have been soon tapped.

Retainers

Firms will want a retainer up front, and for a case like this one, it will be significant, “because obviously we’re not selling something that can be repossessed,” says Scott.

“Once you’ve done all the work and you’re on as council of record, you’ve dedicated every late night for two years, it’s difficult to collect at the back end. So we generally tend to get a proportionally significant amount of money to hold in trust at the beginning to protect ourselves.”

He says that some institutional or long-standing clients won’t have to pay a large retainer, but that’s a decision that’s made on a case-by-case basis.

Money up front may be less of an issue for Mr. Ghomeshi as he’s probably good to pay his account, says Scott. “For most average people, if it looks like they’re going to be going to jail for two or three or five years, counsel would be well advised to ensure that they have an appropriate retainer in place.”

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Star Power Discount

Does the notoriety from this sort of high-profile trial make it worthwhile to drop the price? Maybe.

There are times where lawyers will agree to take a lower rate or make some concessions to get a hold of a specific case, says Scott, but “not as frequently as you would think, we tend to be less interested in the media profile than you would assume, because we still have to bill.”

“But it’s perfectly possible in a bidding war to get a hold of a pretty good file, that she has made some sort of arrangement to either reduce her fee or her hourly rate or cap it, that’s possible,” he says.

Rees says her reputation is the reason she got this trial. “She’s not going to make more money because she’s done this one.”

“Knowing that this one is really high pressure, she might not be willing to slash her fees that much,” he says.

Oykhman says that the spotlight could add to the final tally. “I would suspect that due to the notoriety of the case, the need to deal with the public and media relations part of this file, and the extra background work that would be required to properly vet the Crown witnesses, there would actually be additional fees attached.”

Teamwork

Typically a law firm has a hierarchy, with the top-billing lawyer managing a team of legal researchers or paralegals or associates working at a much hourly rate.

“She [Henein] has probably already assembled a team of people to work at it, which actually doesn’t increase costs, it decreases costs… there is obviously a value to the client making sure the appropriate work is pushed to the appropriate pay level, so the $1,000 per hour lawyer isn’t making photocopies,” says Scott.

But “sometimes the client will insist ‘I want to make sure it’s you doing that preliminary motion,’” Scott says. “That happens from time to time, and that’s their decision.”

The Going Rate for Criminal Defence

“If [Henein] is charging $800-$1,000 per hour, that would put her among the most expensive lawyers in the country. There probably aren’t many lawyers outside of Bay Street charging that amount,” said Scott.

Rates vary by region. “In all of Atlantic Canada, you’re not going to see hourly rates go much above $300/hour. You might see $400/hour for a small handful of people, but average rates in Halifax would be between $200-$300 per hour… they’re comparable, maybe a little bit more on the West Coast, and not terribly different in most of Ontario.”

Canadian Lawyer Magazine’s 2015 Compensation Survey shows that firms are looking beyond billable hours as a gauge of success, with only 34 per cent setting targets for associates and only about a quarter of those offering bonuses. Even fewer partners had billing targets.

A query to Henein Hutchison LLP about their rates went unanswered.

Flat Fees

Alternative Fee Arrangements are gaining ground, giving clients predictability and transparency, says a Canadian Lawyer report.

Rees explains that his firm charges flat fees because people want to know what they’re getting into. “If a plumber coming to my house, I want to know ahead of time. It could be $500 to $50,000? I wouldn’t say yes to that.”

We break the matter up into components - if you go to trial, or if you need an expert, there’s a fee for each part, says Rees.

The move to block fees or flat rates is more common in criminal matters than civil, he says. “My preference is that everyone leaves happy, and you can’t leave happy if you don’t know the price up front.”

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