Pro bono as profit center III: Skadden and Chinatown restaurant case

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2008

Another instance of the decidedly Pickwickian sense in which some in the legal profession use the term pro bono:

Last year, a federal judge awarded nearly $1 million in attorney fees, costs and prejudgment interest to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in a case involving workers at a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown. Chan v. Triple 8 Palace, No. 1:03-cv-06048 (S.D.N.Y.). The New York firm took the case pro bono in an attempt to collect unpaid tips on behalf of the workers.

The firm succeeded. But its request for attorney fees turned heads, especially since the workers received about $700,000.

“And you also had a large law firm telling everybody that they’re doing the case pro bono,” said Daniel A. Hochheiser, a partner at New York’s Hochheiser Hochheiser & Inwood, which represented the restaurant.

“The general understanding of pro bono is that you’re volunteering your time and effort without compensation, or without expectation of compensation,” Hochheiser said.

The case is being compared in several quarters to the Seattle school-suit fee request discussed in this space Sept. 7 and Sept. 23. (Amanda Bronstad, National Law Journal, Feb. 8; Elefant; Cal Blog of Appeal (to whom we’re happy to send the traffic). We briefly noted the Skadden fee ruling last summer.

P.S. Commenters point out — and it’s appropriate to note here as well — that Skadden, unlike Davis Wright Tremaine, says it’s giving away the fee award.

{ 4 comments }

1 Mike 02.18.08 at 1:54 am

From the original article on Law.com:

Skadden partner Mark Cheffo said the firm’s share of the award will be used for “legal and social organizations to support efforts on behalf of Chinese Americans and low-wage workers.”

2 Brett 02.18.08 at 8:16 am

Cui bono?

3 Anonymous Attorney 02.18.08 at 11:51 am

The answer to Brett’s question, of course, is not “the public,” but an ethnically-specific portion of the public, and Skadden Arps.

Walter, now might be a great opportunity for a link to your colleague Heather MacDonald’s brilliant evisceration of the whole world of “pro bono” law published in City Journal several years ago.

4 probonooutrage 02.19.08 at 6:14 pm

What a shocking story. Skadden wins a pro bono case on behalf of some down trodden indigent workers, spends 1000s of hours in the process, wins a large verdict for the plaintiffs’ wrongdoing, and then turns around and donates it all to charity to help others. Shocking. How can they live with themselves!!

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