Via How Appealing:

The Boston Globe today contains an article that begins, "The Wilmer Hale law firm, one of the largest and most respected in Boston, has a reputation for championing unpopular causes: President Nixon during impeachment. The US Army during the McCarthy hearings. Even defending serial killer Ted Bundy. But the firm’s past efforts pale in comparison with the free legal assistance that it has given to six Algerian terrorist suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay. Since 2004, lawyers with the firm have provided 35,448 billable hours of legal help, worth an estimated $17 million, making this case the largest pro bono effort in the 90-year history of the firm."

First, good for them. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Moreover, it looks like they used a particularly honest method for calculating the lost services. Last year Wilmer Hale’s revenue per lawyer was $970,722; presuming 2,000 billable hours per lawyer, that’s an effective rate of $485/hour.

Doing the math on their habeas estimate (35,448 hours = $17 million) puts them at $480/hour.

That’s so close I imagine it’s the source of their number, which means that they’re smart enough to do internal calculations based on actual, realized revenue rather than the sticker price for hourly billing.

Interestingly, they admit the business benefits of the representation:

Despite the huge investment, Oleskey says that the controversial case is not bad for business. "We think our [paying] clients feel that if we can vigorously represent people in Guantanamo . . . we would probably do a pretty good job representing them," he said.

I’m not criticizing them — I think it’s very forward-looking for a law firm to look beyond the balance sheet to the bigger picture. If they can do justice at the same time, it’s a win-win.