Michigan State University is paying at least three outside attorneys rates that are among the highest in the country as its legal bills connected to Larry Nassar have surpassed $100,000.
MSU is paying $990 an hour for work done by partner attorneys at Chicago-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which includes former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, according to contracts and invoices for legal work the State Journal obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. MSU hired the firm in October, and that rate was discounted, according to the contract.
The Skadden firm is among three law firms the university is paying for work in connection with the former MSU doctor, and one of two contracted specifically to assist with investigations or to represent the university in civil lawsuits related to Nassar.
The university is facing two lawsuits from 50 women or girls who say in court documents that Nassar sexually assaulted them during medical appointments and the university didn’t do enough to protect them.
The other, Detroit-based Miller Canfield, is charging the university $455 an hour for one of its attorneys and $360 an hour for two others, according documents.
A third law firm, Hackney Grover, which has offices in several Michigan cities, is the outside law firm the university uses for medical malpractice issues, university spokesman Jason Cody said. Hackney Grover is charging MSU between $135 and $175 an hour for attorneys.
MSU has been billed for at least $106,131 related to Nassar, although the billing records for the law firms don’t cover the same periods of time and some are months old.
The vast majority of that amount — $90,804 — has come from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which billed for 94.3 hours in October and November, the first two months after it was contracted. MSU did not release payments or invoices for work done since November.
MSU hired Miller Canfield in January. MSU did not provide any billing information from the firm.
Hackney Grover, according to invoices, started work related to Nassar on Sept. 21. The law firm billed MSU for 133 hours of work between then and Jan. 31, for a total of $15,327, the most recent records MSU released.
Rates vary by region
In 2014, the average billing rate for a partner at one of the nation’s 350 largest law firms was $604, according to a National Law Journal database for attorney billing. The average rate for associates at those law firms was $370.
Skadden’s average rate for partners — $1,035 — was the third-highest, according to the 2014 database.
According to the State Bar of Michigan’s 2014 Economics of Law Practice report, attorneys in the state who bill in the top 5%, charge between $538 and $550 an hour in the Detroit area. In the Lansing area, the top 5% of hourly billing is $400. For out-of-state attorneys, in 2014 it was $613.
Nassar, 53, of Holt, was fired by MSU officials in September and he left USA Gymnastics in fall 2015 with little notice.
He has been accused of sexual assault by more than 80 women or girls and is facing 28 criminal charges, including 22 directly related to his role as a doctor. He worked for decades at MSU and with USA Gymnastics.
Since September, at least 54 women or girls have filed civil lawsuits against MSU, USA Gymnastics or Nassar, including 49 as part of a federal lawsuit involving MSU.