Good lawyering can get you out of trouble, great lawyering can keep you
from getting into trouble and bad lawyering .... well, bad lawyering can cost you money and make you look bad. Consider, for example, the letters that a lawyer from the firm of Harrell & Chambliss, representing the City of Richmond School Board, recently sent to architects and contractors concerning handicapped accessible ramps that the School Board claims were improperly designed and poorly constructed at Ginter Park and Woodville Elementary Schools. The letters, which threaten litigation and offer a settlement, were sent to Robert Comet at BCHW Architects, Ronald Worley with Worley Associate Architects and to Langston Davis of Davis Brothers Construction Company, Inc. The School Board's lawyers are not supposed to model the deficiencies of RPS students with fundamental math and writing skills. One doesn't need to be an attorney, an English teacher or a math major to notice the glaring problems with these letters. Click here to see for yourself. Adding injury to insult, the RPS School Board pays Harrell & Chambliss a whopping $32,500 per MONTH retainer for such work. Perhaps even worse, the lawyers fail to recognize that their client is the School Board -- not RPS administrators. Lawyering 101 teaches to aim high with an initial demand in a settlement negotiation and back up that demand with irrefutable facts. But the RPS lawyers fail to note that the architects and contractors were already paid $6,752 to design the Ginter Park ramp and $41,746 to construct it, as well as $11,985 to design the Woodville ramp and $31,899 to construct it. Aside from writing an incoherent and inaccurate business letter (note that Mr. Worley is not an employee of BCHW or of Davis Brothers Construction Company), filled with gross mathematical errors ($3,500 is NOT 50 percent of $7,500 nor is $2,400 50 percent of $5,800), the lawyer neglects to cite any authority for the duty, failure or cost of the ramps, which are part of a 2006 U.S. District Court Settlement Agreement requiring RPS to bring the buildings into compliance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The letter makes no attempt to explain the basis for the calculation for remuneration. If the contracts for the work were clear and the work is not to standard, why does the lawyer representing the School Board begin negotiations by essentially offering to accept a small fraction of what it will cost to fix the problem (i.e., redesigning, demolishing and rebuilding the ramps). Further, neither RPS Supt. Yvonne Brandon nor members of the board were copied on the correspondence. The only RPS official copied on the letters was Valerie Abbott-Jones, the ADA coordinator for the school system. Why weren't Dr. Brandon and board members informed of this settlement offer? Did Dr. Brandon approve this without bringing it to the School Board? Did School Board Chair Kim Bridges approve this letter without consulting or informing her colleagues on the board? Did anyone read this letter for accuracy before it was sent? Were the plaintiffs in the ADA matter informed of this settlement offer? And, finally, how much did Harrell Chambliss lawyers have the nerve to bill RPS for these letters and why haven't they and Abbott-Jones been fired?