A disappointing state audit of Los Angeles’s spending on outside counsel (California)

I was excited to discover the 67-page report by the Bureau of State Audits. I was disappointed when I read its methodology and recommendations.

Aside from assembling spending data in late 2005 for the 500 attorney Office of the City Attorney, which rose steadily from $17.5 million to $31.9 million, the lengthy study had almost no metrics. All I spotted was that the CFO of the Attorneys Office pointed out that the legal spend was 0.2 percent of the City’s total expenditures ($10 billion plus), but the auditors did not try to benchmark other cities’ legal costs.

The auditors mostly identified policies, such as competitive bidding and budgets and invoice review (id at 8), and then proceeded to find that “sometimes the lawyers did not comply with the policies.” No organization 100 percent complies with any policy!

The recommendations were puffy. Here’s one marshmallow. “The Attorney’s Office should sufficiently document the analysis used in reaching its decisions to recommend the retention of outside counsel.” (id at 4) And another flaccid recommendation: “the Attorneys Office should develop and implement comprehensive policies and procedures that specify standards for applying evaluation criteria.” What’s insightful about “the Attorney’s Office should ensure that outside counsel submit comprehensive budgets.” (id at 4)

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