Law firm Jenner sues Sierra Leone for $8 million in legal fees

Signage is seen outside of the law firm Jenner & Block LLP in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Firm says work 'more voluminous' than anticipated
  • Lawsuit in D.C. 'regrettably necessary,' complaint says

(Reuters) - Law firm Jenner & Block sued Sierra Leone in Washington, D.C., federal court to recover more than $8 million in legal fees for defending the West African country in U.S. courts and elsewhere since 2019.

Chicago-based Jenner said in its complaint on Tuesday that it "vigorously represented" Sierra Leone in legal matters against an iron ore contractor pursuing claims that exposed the country to potentially $1.8 billion in damages.

Jenner said Sierra Leone settled the dispute favorably with no monetary payment.

Sierra Leone paid $3.6 million in fees to Jenner for legal work between 2019 and late 2021, the lawsuit said, leaving a balance of $8.1 million. The complaint claimed Sierra Leone orally agreed to pay more than what an engagement letter set out at the start.

"This lawsuit is thus regrettably necessary because, despite the acknowledged debt and efforts to pay it, the Republic has simply failed to act for over a year," the complaint said.

The firm said it had made "repeated requests" for payment on the outstanding balance.

A representative from Sierra Leone's embassy in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

A spokesperson for the 500-lawyer Jenner on Wednesday declined to comment.

In 2021, Jenner recorded more than $465 million in gross revenue, according to industry publication The American Lawyer. The firm is among the largest in the country based on revenue.

Sierra Leone retained Jenner in 2019 for work on a matter involving concessionaire Gerald International Ltd. Sierra Leone claimed Gerald had breached its contract to remove and sell iron ore from mines.

Gerald challenged an order barring it from continuing to export iron ore from the country.

The law firm's engagement letter set an annual flat fee of $1.5 million.

Jenner said the firm's work for Sierra Leone "turned out to be far more complex and voluminous than either party initially contemplated."

The lawsuit alleged Sierra Leone acknowledged that additional payment to the firm was "required and appropriate."

The case is Jenner & Block v. The Republic of Sierra Leone, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-03599.

For plaintiff: Kali Bracey, David Jimenez-Ekman and Maria del Carmen Gonzalez of Jenner & Block

For defendant: No appearance yet

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