Without pointing to any examples of abuse, Attorney General Mark Herring said he wants to clean up the process where the state hires private lawyers for its legal work.
The state spent $23.3 on outside counsel in the last fiscal year, an increase by about half of the spending levels for the two prior years, Herring’s office said.
Herring said he is implementing a process to provide more competition for one-time appointments and objective review of all proposals for legal services.
Herring said he has hired a compliance and transparency lawyer whose duties will include overseeing the hiring and management of private lawyers working for the state.
The new procurement policy will involve:
- A contribution blackout – Lawyers and firms bidding on state work will be barred from making campaign contributions to Herring beginning 60 days after a solicitation is posted.
- Documented determination of need – the AG’s office will be required to document in writing why it is impractical for the state to do the work being sent to outside lawyers.
- Competitive procurement – Single case appointments involving less than $25,000 will require contact with at least three firms to evaluate their ability to provide “the best service at the best price.” Single case appointments expected to cost more than $25,000 must be posted for proposals.
- Objective evaluation – Competitive proposals will be reviewed by a panel of at least three individuals and engagement letters shall be awarded to the firms with the most competitive proposals.
Herring said invoices will be reviewed by both the “client agency” and the AG’s office.
Richmond area attorney Shawri King-Casey has been hired to serve as the first “Compliance and Transparency Counsel” at the AG’s office. Her duties include managing compliance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act and overseeing the procurement and management of outside counsel engagements.
King-Casey has served as ethics counsel/conflicts counsel at the Richmond office of McGuireWoods LLP.
Herring also said he will implement modern case management and document management systems to replace “rudimentary and insufficient” methods now used, which often involve extensive paper copies.
The state’s use of outside lawyers has been under scrutiny, in part because of publicity about private attorneys hired for state employees involved in the corruption investigation of former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
A state budget amendment – included in the budget now on Gov. McAuliffe’s desk – would require the attorney general to report to Assembly money committees each year on spending for outside counsel, including the reasoning for the hires, the hourly rates, total spending and funding sources.