Norton Rose Fulbright’s hourly rates are the latest sideshow to litigation over how Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus treats its elephants.

Since 2006, the firm has led circus producer Feld Entertainment Inc.’s successful defense against claims of elephant mistreatment. Norton Rose — previously Fulbright & Jawor­ski — and three other firms that represented Feld want the plaintiffs and their former lawyer to pay more than $25 million in legal fees.

Feld’s lead attorney at Norton Rose, John Simpson, laid bare his own hourly rates in filings last week in support of the fee petition. Feld’s lawyers want the animal rights groups to pay 2012 rates for its work since 2006, which the firm argues is fair given the changing value of a dollar over time.

For Simpson, it’s a difference between the $505 hourly rate he charged in the case in 2006 (less than his standard rate that year of $575), for instance, versus his 2012 hourly rate of $825.

Norton Rose’s 2012 hourly rates for lawyers involved in the case ranged from $340 for an associate to $885 for of counsel Joseph Small Jr. The firm reported billing more than 41,000 hours since late 2006 valued at $22.6 million.

Covington & Burling, Troutman Sanders and Hughes Hubbard & Reed also want the plaintiffs to pay their fees. Covington, which represented Feld from 2000 to 2006, claims the firm deserves $2.3 million for nearly 6,000 hours of work. Troutman billed about 1,300 hours valued at more than $273,000 for work in 2008 and 2009, and Hughes Hubbard billed 17.5 hours valued at around $11,700 for work in 2007 and 2008.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs declined to comment or didn’t return calls for comment. Stephen Braga, a solo practitioner in Woodbridge, Va., representing former lead plaintiffs’ counsel Katherine Meyer of Meyer Glitzen­stein & Crystal, said he planned to challenge the fee request as excessive. — Zoe Tillman

LAUGHING IN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

“Saturday Night Live” is unlikely to come knocking on their doors, but a recent study of gender and humor at the U.S. Supreme Court revealed a three-way tie for the funniest advocate: Paul Clement of Bancroft; Mark Stancil of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber; and Seth Waxman of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

“I’m confident this is the only time that the phrase ‘a three-way tie among Paul D. Clement, Mark T. Stancil and Seth P. Waxman’ has ever appeared in print,” said Stancil, adding that his firm enjoyed a good laugh at his new reputation.

The study’s four authors, led by Ryan Malphurs, examined arguments in the 79 cases in the 2011-12 Supreme Court term and discovered that the court’s conservative justices dominate: 207 instances of laughter to the liberals’ 136 (the same number as Justice Antonin Scalia alone). The study was published earlier this month. Justice Stephen Breyer is often the butt of Scalia’s humor, although the latter uses much of the bench “for his enjoyment,” and that justices joke more often with male advocates than females.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wins the “Feminist Award” by directing the bulk of his humorous statements toward female advocates rather than male advocates.

The authors say their study — titled “Too much Frivolity, Not Enough Femininity” — relies on the examination of humor “to note a glaring and serious discrepancy” at the court: how few female advocates argue there, and how few women sit on the bench. — Marcia Coyle

BILL TARGETING STATE SECRETS CLAIMS GETS NEW LIFE

A group of legislators once again is trying to make sure that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers don’t use the state-secrets privilege to conceal ­embarrassing or unlawful conduct. The legislative push goes back to 2009, but this year lawmakers are selling the State Secrets Protection Act on the heels of the ­disclosure of the wide scope of government surveillance ­programs.

“Especially nowadays, where recent revelations about intrusions on personal privacy have caused a growing distrust in government, it’s important that the law is clear and the executive branch is held accountable,” Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) said in a written statement. “I’m sure there are cases where national security is truly at risk, and that information must be protected. But we shouldn’t have to simply take the executive branch’s word for it.”

Among other provisions, the bill would require judges to make independent assessments of any state-secrets claims. The law would allow the government to withhold evidence only if the information is “reasonably likely to cause significant harm to the national defense or diplomatic relations of the United States.” Judges have this authority now but don’t often use it, said Washington litigator Mark Zaid, who focuses on national security.

“It’s made very clear that the judiciary in its present form will not challenge an executive branch invocation of the privilege,” Zaid said. Needing the supporting of intelligence committees, the bill, Zaid said, likely faces an uphill battle. — Todd Ruger

BIG CLAIMS FROM BIG BUSINESS

Plaintiffs lawyers and courts favorable to class actions are perils for the business community and need constant vigilance, Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, said last week. Delivering remarks at the institute’s 14th annual Legal Reform Summit in Washington, Rickard said plaintiffs lawyers are creating new business models, ­federal agencies are flooding companies with new regulations and enforcement actions, and certain jurisdictions around the country thrive as “jackpot” venues for plaintiffs.

“[T]he health of American business depends on a healthy legal system,” she said. “If we want an economy that’s strong and resilient, then we have to remain proactive and persistent and continue healing our nation’s lawsuit system.” — Andrew Ramonas

SEARCH WARRANT SPAT

Prominent Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review his challenge of a government search warrant. Thompson, represented by a team from Williams & Connolly, including Brendan Sullivan Jr., contends the government should not be allowed to cling to documents that are outside the scope of the warrant.

A federal trial judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against Thompson, who’s under investigation in a wide-ranging corruption probe rooted in the 2010 mayoral campaign. Thompson, who ran a health care company, hasn’t been charged with a crime. His lawyers argue the “vast majority” of the more than 23 million pages of records agents seized “relate to confidential client matters.” The defense lawyers contend Thompson’s request for the return of documents would have been granted if the dispute had unfolded in one of several other federal court districts. — Mike Scarcella

LAW STRIPPED OUT

In March, the House inserted language into a last-minute funding bill that directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to disregard any court order directing farmers to stop planting genetically modified crops. When the government shut down earlier this month, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) took action. Tester called the provision a giveaway to big businesses and said it would put the department in the middle of a battle between Congress and the judiciary.

“I don’t know who authored this provision,” Tester said. “Maybe someone in Washington knows, but no one is willing to put their name to it. And that’s a shame.” On Oct. 16, when Senate leaders were drafting a bill to continue funding the government, Tester said, he resolved to get the language stripped out. That bill became law, and the provision became history. — Todd Ruger

LIBEL SUIT PLAINTIFF APPEALS

The son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing forward with his libel suit against the publisher of Foreign Policy magazine. Yasser Abbas sued Foreign Policy and Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, over a June 2012 article Schanzer wrote questioning whether Abbas and his brother were profiting from their family’s political connections.

On Sept. 27, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the case, citing a District of Columbia law barring lawsuits aimed at chilling protected free speech. On Oct. 23, Abbas, represented by Melito & Adolfse n in New York, notified the trial court he was appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which specializes in media law, is representing Schanzer. Williams & Connolly represents Foreign Policy. — Zoe Tillman