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One Answer to the $240,000 Question

This may sound odd, but from a legal perspective, the fact the Jennifer Messer, wife of likely U.S. Senate candidate Luke Messer made $240,000 from the Town of Fishers as a contractual attorney working an average of 26.5 hours a week is not a big deal; from a legal perspective.

Jennifer is a contractual attorney doing work for the Town and records show she was on a $20,000 a month retainer.  And according to Mayor Scott Fadness, she helped with a lot of complicated legal projects.   That $20,000 may seem like a lot, particularly to the layman, but it isn’t when you start breaking it down.

Note, a lot of lawyers bill by the hour, and depending on their area of expertise, status in the firm (i.e. first-year associate or partner)  and the matter at hand so that it can cost anywhere from $50 – $1000 an hour, and that’s a rough estimate.    Let’s assume the 26.5 hours a week average is accurate.  Well first that means some week she works more hours and some weeks less, but that’s still 26.5 hours.  There are 52 weeks in a year, so Jennifer was paid for 1,378 hours.  So $200,000 / 1,378 hours = $174.16 an hour.

Is that a lot?  Like everything else, it’s in the eye of the beholder.  As you know, I’m an attorney (licensed in Illinois and working on getting my Indiana law license this summer as well as becoming a registered mediator), and there have been days when I charged a flat rate for a project, others were by the hour.  And depending on the work, on some matters, I charged more than Jennifer and other issues I charged less.  It depends.  And in some cases I billed by the hour and others I charged a flat rate.  Once again, it depends.

One thing I can say, and this comes from having worked in government in a former life; there’s always the questions of why hire an outside attorney when you have in-house counsel, once again it depends on the matter and expertise that you need.  Also, keep this in mind, when you hire outside counsel on a contractual basis, you don’t have to pay health benefits, vacation or sick time, or retirement.  You just pay them for their services and move on.

So, back to the original point, is Jennifer Messer paid too much?  I doubt it.  Everything I’ve seen so far says there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on when it comes to billing.  But then again, I’m attorney, so I get it.  Will the Republican primary voters think the same thing next May?  We’ll see.

  • http://blog.jimgrey.net/ Jim Grey

    Thanks for doing this math. Given that I paid the attorney I used for a recent matter $300 an hour, suddenly Jennifer Messer doesn’t seem all that expensive.