Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article “A review of Duane Morris’ invoices to Central Bucks raised red flags, including ‘excessive’ billing hours.” Maddie Hanna reported that an outside legal firm, Wisler Pearlstine, conducted a third-party review of the legal expenses of Duane Morris and determined that there were a number of issues with the charges. 

A June 2023 email from Wisler Pearlstine attorney, Edward Diasio, to the Central Bucks School District superintendent and school board president at the time stated that there were too many attorneys assigned to the case and they excessively billed hours. The email is credited to the Bucks County Courier Times, but that report does not state how they obtained it.

When I read this article, my initial reaction was that a majority of law firms could be accused of excessively billed hours and assigning too many attorneys to a single case. A third-party review of a law firm’s charges by another law firm will likely yield the same conclusion. Wisler Pearlstine was paid to find problems, and they did.

None of this is surprising; however, it raises the question whether Wisler Pearlstine ever over-billed or assigned too many attorneys to a single case. A request for comment on this question to Wisler Pearlstine was not immediately returned. Perhaps the Inquirer could investigate if Wisler Pearlstine has ever been guilty of the same practices that they slammed Duane Morris for?

I was not the only parent to do so. Similar petitions were filed by parents against Downingtown, Coatesville, Great Valley, and Tredyffrin/Easttown school districts.

Three of the five districts or their insurance carriers engaged Wisler Pearlstine to defend them against the petitions. All of us filed these petitions on our own without legal representation, otherwise known as pro se. In my specific case against the West Chester Area School District, Wisler Pearlstine assigned a total of four attorneys and three other staff, likely paralegals. 

Consider the context: they assigned four attorneys, two of whom are partners, to go up against an unrepresented mom.

From the time that I filed the petition in January 2022 until it was closed in January 2023, Wisler Pearlstine filed thousands of pages with the Chester County court. This included three separate Memorandums of Law that included “excessive” legal research and references. I came to this opinion after asking a few attorney friends if these detailed memorandums were warranted against a pro se petitioner, and they stated emphatically that they were not. (Maybe similar to Wisler Pearlstine, my attorney friends were just giving the answer that I wanted, although I did not pay for it.)

They also filed a number of “praecipes,” which is a written request to the judge. These documents were also heavily researched and documented. Here is a picture of one such filing.

It is not a stretch to suggest that Wisler Pearlstine employed too many attorneys or created excessive documents in this case. A Right to Know request provided details of their invoices for the months of February, March, and April 2022. The case was not closed until January 2023, so this three-month period is only a quarter of the overall case time. The document pictured above was submitted to the court in September 2022, and there was an oral argument in October.

Over the three-month period, Wisler Pearlstine billed the district’s insurance carrier, AIG, for over 186 hours of services. While their rates are significantly lower than Duane Morris’s, keep in mind that Wisler Pearlstine was billing a total of four different school districts to defend essentially the same case. The research was likely used in all four cases, although I cannot confirm that assertion.

Additionally, at least in the case of West Chester, the invoice seems to indicate that the insurance company was billed and not the district directly. It is common practice for insurance companies to negotiate significant discounts with “paneled” firms to keep costs down. Law firms enter into these “volume discount” arrangements because the magnitude of the hours makes up for the decreased rate.

The bottom line is that both Wisler Pearlstine and the Inquirer are being disingenuous about the situation. Sure, Duane Morris charged a much higher rate, but they did not do anything different than most other firms, including Wisler Pearlstine.

And who knows, maybe Duane Morris attorneys are just more competent than Wisler Pearlstine attorneys. After all, the West Chester School Board directors were removed for three days and made national and international news when the Wisler Pearlstine attorneys failed to respond to the judge’s order correctly.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

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