Big Law Firms Lose; Sunrise Taxpayers Win





Yes, lawyer Stuart Michelson got a no-bid contract last year to become Sunrise’s city attorney.

Yes, Michelson will receive more than $400,000-a-year from Sunrise.

Well, here is the rest of the story.  It’s good news for taxpayers.

Michelson has saved the city $571,918 in his first six months as city attorney. That’s how he sees it — he did the math. 

He announced the big savings at Tuesday’s city commission meeting.

Michelson saved money largely by cutting outside counsel fees by $287,529, doing some of the work himself.  He also stepped up the collection of fines and forfeitures by $238,442.

The big loser in all this — Greenberg Traurig.  The firm’s billing plunged to $40,923 from $231,736.  This is in the six months ending in January compared with the same period in 2007-2008.

Michelson said he does much of the Greenberg Traurig work himself.  Or he farmed it out to lawyer Kim Kisslan, who he pays out of his pocket.

Other firms having their outside counsel fees cut include Weiss Serota Helfman ($116, 019 from $164,280); Paul Ryder ($13,335 from $57,540); Johnson Anselmo ($331 from $3,359) and Lewis Longman Walker ($15,572 from $25,335), among others.

I still believe city commissioners were wrong to hire Michelson without considering any other firm.  It smelled of an inside deal.

But so far, he is proving a benefit to the city.



12 Responses to “Big Law Firms Lose; Sunrise Taxpayers Win”

  1. In-house Counsel says:

    Buddy – as an in-house counsel for a large corporation, the numbers cited by Michelson don’t surprise me one bit.

    Unlike outside law firms, who bill by the hour, write internal memos, and have associates researching every issue that can come up in a matter, when a city or company handles their legal matters through their own employees (or like with Sunrise, through a contracted rate attorney), the costs go down.

    I don’t write internal legal memoranda for the sake of writing them. If I know the law on an issue, I can short circuit the reseach and not start “from scratch” every time.

    By doing things ourselves, we can be more cost effective than paying out $300+ an hour to outside firms to handle every little thing.

    Was good meeting you last week at the Judicial robing.

  2. skeptical says:

    Has anybody on the city commission checked Michelson’s figures or do they just believe any guff they are told?

  3. law lady says:

    Having worked for a major law firm, I can believe that Mr. Michelson could easily save money for his client, the City of Sunrise. The partners used to laugh about sending four and five lawyers to a hearing when only one was needed. Or the common practice of papering the law suit, running up cost with endless motions.

  4. Mister Courthouse says:

    I agree with lady law. Big firms tend to pad their bills with needless fees. Clients not only pay extra for the name and the depth of talent at the firm, but for the fancy offices and generous support staff. A smart boutique law firm like Michelson can always deliver services for less.

  5. Marty Rubinstein says:


    And posters in New Times and elsewhere were calling me an apologist for Sunrise…

    Hmm… Apologies accepted!

    Keep up the good work Stuart!

  6. Weston Dreams says:

    Hold your horses Marty, you need to evaluate a full 12 months to insure accurate statistics. Anyone can fudge a month or two. Plus, to get a real snapshot worth trusting, independent auditor should evaluate.

  7. Marty Rubinstein says:

    I take it that you’ve never worked in retail management.

    Projections are made and month to month, data is compared with data from the same month in the previous year. Both income and expenditures.

    Waiting a year to find out what the trends are is a fatal move for any entity new or established.

    There is always the unexpected expenditure, but trends still map out month to month.

  8. weston dreams says:

    Marty, time to finish your nap and get back into the real world. Legal work and retail sales are not even in the same universe. Legal work is an issue based expense, which bill can be sent at the will of the issuer or individual subcontracting the work.

    Also, the part of the increased fines being collected has alot to say about Stuart and your mentality. Why would you step up pressure and fines on residents in this downward spiraling economy. In case you were sleeping thru the last 12 months, millions of Americans have lost thier jobs and homes, and millions more are on the edge of the same consequenses.

    So Marty, do not tell me what a great job Stuart and this commission are doing collecting fines. They have forgotten the very reason they were elected in the first place, which was to protect the citizens of Sunrise. Period and end of discussion.

  9. A lawyer who worked in West Broward says:

    Nevins is naive to even post this on Stuart Michelson’s word. I know Stuart Michelson and his wife Ilene Lieberman for years. Let’s see if after a year or two they are still “saving the city money” or will they be putting that savings in their pockets.
    Mr. Rubinstein knows nothing about legal billing or what legal fees should be. If he did, maybe they wouldn’t be out of control at the School Board.

  10. Marty Rubinstein says:

    Now just hold on there pardner…

    You actually can sit there and write with indignation about increased collection of fines?

    Run a lot of red lights, do you?

    Speeder perhaps?

    Damn, the drugs you’re taking must be good…

    Those fines where Stuart has been stepping up collections on are not so trivial. Not on residents, either.

    $36,000 fine to a waste collection company interfering with our contracted hauler. Trivial? I think not unless you’re part of it (But I suspect not.)

    $201,000 in forfeiture money from drug dealers and other highly illegal enterprises?

    They turn into things like body armor and other police supplies. Protecting the citizens of Sunrise and all that…

    You can’t possibly have a problem with that? Could you?

    Apparently you either weren’t at Tuesday’s meeting or you were in the snack room down the hall.

    Which one of us is asleep at the switch?

    Please tell us who’s been handing you this crap.

    As to the former West Broward Lawyer…

    I’ve known Ilene for years and Stuart admittedly for a lot less time. But I’ve know him by reputation just about as long as I’ve known Ilene.

    Everybody knows that Stuart is being monitored, especially Stuart. Knowing what I know, I fully expect him to cross the finish line well ahead of expectations.

    What we have in Michelson is what Sunrise has needed since I’ve been a resident, and that’s a City Attorney who is not beholden to an authoritarian demagogue of a City Manager and a SPINELESS City Commission of which there is currently only one remaining member.

    And if I could have replaced the School Board Attorney, I would have voted to choose somebody like Stuart and company.

    I’m guessing there’s a reason why there’s past tense in your “worked in West Broward.”

    For my book, keep it that way.

  11. Hey Marty says:

    This month last year is an acceptable way to justify sales patterns in a retail business. But in a government context it has very limited applicability. Cities pass budgets and performance is measured against that, not against the budgets they passed last year.

  12. Marty Rubinstein says:

    Comparative spending permits budgeting projection for the following year’s spending no matter who or what. Governments included.

    As I stated earlier, expenditures are included. YOU’VE GOT TO KNOW WHERE THE MONEY IS GOING AND WHY.

    The unfortunate part of the equation is the fact that until now, most governmental entities were never zero budget based.

    They are beginning to see the light and Sunrise is one of the first.

    Yes there are times when unexpected expenditures arise and that’s what contingency budgets are all about. You expect to spend zero, but that’s not real life.

    Some unions want to dip into those funds for raises. (Are you listening BTU?) It’ll never happen.

    For city budgets to be efficient, they MUST compare both year to year and month to month. INCOME AND EXPENDITURE.

    I once had an e-mail discussion with a student at Taravella high school who wanted to essentially burn Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer because of the “N” word. Here’s the message that he just couldn’t comprehend:

    You’ve got to know where you’ve been before you can possibly know where you want to go.

    It applies to history.

    It applies to budgeting.