Efficiency report: In-house attorneys are a good deal for Troy

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 12, 2011


The Troy city attorney successfully pleaded her case before the Troy City Council that the in-house legal services she and the staff provides are more economical than outsourcing them would be.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm presented the results of an efficiency analysis provided by the International City Managers Association/International Municipal Lawyers Association during a study session following the Oct. 3 meeting. ICMA requested assistance from IMLA, a nonprofit professional organization with 2,500 member communities, for the report.

The ICMA/IMLA report concluded that outsourcing city attorney services in Troy is not supported at this time. “The efficiencies and advantages of in-house services outweigh advantages of outsourcing,” the report states.

For example, the city prosecutes misdemeanor criminal cases, and the report states that an advantage to an in-house attorney is that prosecution involves significant judgment regarding what cases to pursue vigorously and whether a case should be tried. According to the IMLA, contracting out this service can change the dynamic of city policy on crime in that if an attorney in private practice receives the same pay regardless of how much time he or she spends in prosecuting cases, there is incentive to conclude those cases quickly.

Further, the report states that outsourcing can result in negative publicity when the city is the plaintiff, as these types of cases involve “tactful consideration and treatment of the defendant.”

Bluhm told the council that the annual budget for the city attorney’s office is $1.009 million, of which 82 percent is personnel costs.

The city attorneys regularly work overtime, but receive only a base salary.

There are currently three full-time attorneys, and the city will hire one more in coming weeks. In the past, there have been as many as five.

“Not all city attorney offices are in-house,” Bluhm said.

Bluhm said that some cities, such as Sterling Heights and Farmington Hills, use outside counsel, while Warren, Detroit, Livonia and Dearborn use in-house city attorneys.

The report calculated Troy’s city attorney hourly rate as $83.03 per hour, much lower than the $195 per hour median hourly rate for member municipal attorneys.

“Based on our review, Troy’s city attorney’s office holds an enviable reputation in Michigan for its talent,” the report states. “The city attorney garners the respect of her peers and holds positions of leadership in various organizations. Her staff is likewise well respected.”

It goes on to say, “Based on the size of the city and its various operations, the city operates the attorney’s office at a barely sustainable level. … The IMLA is concerned about the sustainability of the current staffing (seven full-time employees, three attorneys, two paralegals and one administrative staff person) and believes some city programs may be underserved.”

Bluhm agreed and said some programs, such as risk mitigation, are underserved.

She explained that the legal staff is not able to continually review city policies, procedures and ordinances, and train city staff with regard to new legislation or be as proactive on environmental issues as they would like to be.

“We strive to be an efficient and effective legal team.” Bluhm said. “I’m very proud of all the accomplishments of our team.”

Mayor Louise Schilling praised the report and said it was very thorough.

Councilman Dane Salter, a retired police captain from Troy, said he had a lot of interaction with the city attorney’s office while on the job.

“The intangibles, from my perspective, separate it from outsourcing,” he said.

He pointed out that it would be much more expensive to try to establish an in-house attorney’s office after it had been disbanded.

“If you outsource it, you never get it back — it costs too much money,” he said.

The ICMA/ILMA report will be available on the city website, www.troymi.gov.