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A source of data on fees and total legal costs – public records of a city

On March 8, 2009, the Augusta Chronicle reported on fees paid a law firm for its work on bond issuances.

The named firm earned $400,000 for its work on a $160 million water and sewer bond in 2004; $126,000 for a $19.6 million airport bond in 2005; $44,000 for a $44 million general obligation bond in 2006; and $100,000 for a $177 million utilities bond in 2007. The newspaper obtained the data from the Finance Department of Augusta through an open records request. If other cities disclosed their expenditures on bond counsel, it would not take much to create a national (or statewide) database by type and size of issuance, so each municipal issuer could benchmark its own fee arrangements.

Augusta’ total legal fees have been going up. Including the cost of the law department and fees charged by outside firms for work done for all city departments, the totals were $1.4 million in 2005 and $1.6 million in 2006. Total legal spend rose to $1.9 million in 2007 and nearly $2 million in 2008 (that year the in-house legal department cost about $748,000 and fees for outside attorneys totaled $1.1 million – note the 40.60 split of inside-to-outside spend).