By Rich Pollack
The Boca Raton Airport Authority is considering asking for proposals from law firms interested in representing the agency, but that step could end up costing the authority more money than it is paying its current firm.
During its October meeting, the authority agreed to table a vote on whether to seek requests for qualifications from outside firms until additional information is gathered.
In a presentation to the authority members, Executive Director Clara Bennett said the authority has been using its current law firm, Berger Singerman, since August 2006.
The firm, which provides a wide range of legal services and has experience working with Federal Aviation Administration and Florida Department of Transportation regulations, has billed the authority at an all-inclusive hourly rate of $250 since it was first contracted.
Bennett said she surveyed 10 other general aviation airports and found hourly rates varied depending on the practice area, ranging from $150 an hour to more than $500 an hour.
“If we have a rate of only $250 an hour in today’s world, that’s amazing,” said board member Bill Schwartz.
Other members of the authority, however, indicated they would like to see what other firms would charge and suggested going ahead with issuing a request for qualifications.
“Our goal is to get the best possible legal representation at the most affordable price,” said authority member Robert Weinroth, who also is Boca Raton’s vice mayor.
Weinroth added that he is not unhappy with the quality of work provided by Berger Singerman.
“Prior to joining this board I had reservations about outside counsel,” he said, adding his opinion has changed. “I’ve been satisfied with the services we’re receiving.”
In responding to comments from board members, Berger Singerman’s Dawn Meyers — a partner of the firm’s government and regulatory team and lead attorney working with the airport authority — said keeping the rate of $250 an hour has been a source of contention within the firm.
She said the airport authority is the only client that has not seen a rate increase over the course of nine years and that there has been pressure from within for an adjustment.
“$250 an hour is 45 percent of my standard rate,” Meyers said.
Should the board choose to go ahead with testing the waters, Meyers said, her firm would mostly likely submit a proposal but at a higher rate.
“I can tell you we will not bid at $250 an hour,” she said. “There are certain things I cannot control.”
During her presentation, Bennett told board members that the authority has spent $233,000 on legal fees so far this year out of its operating budget. It also has spent close to $70,000 on legal fees associated with capital projects.
Bennett also said that the authority received significant reimbursements from the state and federal government for legal fees and that it would not be eligible for those reimbursements were it to hire an in-house counsel.
After the board agreed to table the decision on whether to issue a request for qualifications, authority member George Brown suggested a possible alternative means of reducing legal fees.
“There may be an opportunity to further manage the cost by having staff doing some of the work,” he said. “These are the kinds of things we can look at.”