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There’s good news for in-house attorneys who actually see the inside of a courtroom: Courts are coming around to the idea that corporate counsel should be reimbursed for legal fees. It’s not exactly a movement, but a couple of state courts are getting used to what’s still a novel idea. “You’re probably looking at fewer than 20 cases across the country that have addressed this issue,” says Meredith Stone, general counsel at Konica Business Technologies Inc. in Windsor, Conn., and president of the American Corporate Counsel Association’s Connecticut chapter. But at least one high-level, high-profile state court has weighed in on the question: The California Supreme Court last year held that corporations that rely on in-house lawyers to litigate may recover attorneys’ fees at prevailing market rates. And now a Connecticut state judge has gotten with the program. The judge granted attorneys’ fees to Advest Inc. for the trial work done by its assistant general counsel in a contract dispute between the Hartford, Conn.-based Advest and ice cream maker Carvel Corp. ACCA’s Stone predicts that the ruling will prompt other in-house lawyers to line up and ask for what’s theirs. In Advest’s case, the company sought legal fees for its assistant GC, Philip Wellman, who sat through the trial. Carvel balked at paying fees for him, arguing that paying for in-house counsel was inappropriate, and that some of Wellman’s services were “duplicative” of those provided by Advest’s outside counsel. Carvel also asserted that Wellman only monitored the trial. But the judge said that Wellman took a “reasonably active role” in the proceedings, which included examining a witness and preparing to examine other witnesses. The court’s stance has professional organization backing. In 1999 ACCA’s board of directors adopted a policy statement calling for in-house counsel to be paid prevailing market rates for their work in cases “where attorneys’ fees would otherwise be awarded.” Time will tell whether other courts are inclined to agree.

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