HART looks to cut legal spending by using in-house lawyers

01/24/12 Janelle Irwin
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The tough budget climate has left governments at all levels looking for creative ways to cut costs. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART, is looking to their legal department to save a half a million dollars. In a committee meeting yesterday, HART’s director of legal services, Michael Stephens, said the savings estimate is conservative because it is based on current expenditures.

“That could go up and therefore our general liability expense could go up, meaning our outside counsel fees. Whereas if you have those assets in house that’s a fixed number. So, say for example last year we spent 700-something thousand dollars or 500 and something thousand dollars and we could do that work in house for $160,000, well, next year that $500,000 may very well be 600, 700. It just depends on the circumstances.”

The head of HART’s finance, governance and administration committee is Ron Govin. He said reducing the amount of outsourced legal services was the most logical cost reduction.

“With all the budgetary constraints that we’re facing, the staff had to go back and look at every possible expenditure to see where savings could be achieved and the outside legal counsel was clearly one where the costs were rising and so they looked for opportunities to realize substantial savings.”

And legal services director Michael Stephens estimates the strategic move will do more than save money. He also expects the level of service in the legal department to improve.

“If you bring that particular work in house, you own the case from start to finish so you can exercise a much greater degree of oversight of that particular case. You know the case. You live it, you breathe it. It’s your equipment; it’s your employees who are involved so you know it better than anyone else.”

Stephens’ presentation to HART committee members Monday included a recommendation for at least two new positions including a full time attorney and a paralegal. HART board members have not taken action on this item, but reaction to the potential savings was favorable. The next regular meeting will be on February 6th.

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