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Firm 'Pedals' Unique Practice: Trails-to-Dollars

Three lawyers in the St. Louis office of Lathrop & Gage are establishing themselves as national leaders in a unique niche: rails-to-trails compensation. In 2006, the team won the largest per-mile recovery ever when the federal government had to pay $8.2 million to 100 St. Louis property owners for converting two miles of unused railroad rights-of-way into a recreational biking and hiking trail. Currently, the firm has eight rails-to-trails cases pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. It is the only law firm currently handling more than a single such case, according to the St. Louis Business Journal.

The three lawyers -- Mark Fernlund Hearne II, Meghan S. Largent and Lindsay S.C. Brinton -- are credited with having helped shape and clarify the law under the 1983 Rails-to-Trails Act, which allows the federal government to take abandoned railroad tracks and convert them into recreational trails. Determining just when these conversions constitute a taking of private property can be complicated, lawyers on all sides agree. But Hearne can boast victories in each of the three cases he has so far taken to conclusion. Not only that, but their work has drawn the attention of Congress, the Business Journal reports. The U.S. Senate held a hearing on the issue last April, at which one of Hearne's clients testified, and Missouri's congressional delegation has introduced companion Senate and House bills aimed at ensuring that property owners are compensated for land taken under the Rails-to-Trails Act.

While the work of these three lawyers is helping their clients win fair compensation, it sure isn't hurting their firm's bottom line. The minimum billing rate courts have set for this type of work is $800 an hour, and Hearne said that each case costs a minimum of $2 million in fees and costs just to go to trial. Now that's rail money!

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 20, 2008 at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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