Detroit's bankruptcy filing last month brought a double-barrelled bonus for lawyers - lots of much-needed work, and, due to a quirk of municipal bankruptcy law, no apparent need to disclose the fees they charge.
However, before lawyers from big-name firms could start totting up their billable hours, Judge Steven Rhodes made clear he wasn't happy with the lack of transparency. He said he wants to appoint an examiner to make sure fees charged to the city are fully disclosed and reasonable.
In reality, it is unlikely lawyers will object to added oversight given that they are being paid from taxpayer funds. In the overheated political atmosphere surrounding the case, having an independent examiner approve fees could give a degree of cover to lawyers who often bill as much as $1,000 an hour.
The outcome of Detroit's bankruptcy could set important precedents that will impact how other cities deal with billions of dollars in pension and bond obligations. With so much at stake, Detroit and its bond insurers and unions are likely to splash out on the best legal help.