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Each South Hampton Roads city has a cadre of attorneys on staff to deal with the many legal disputes that come with running a large city.

Sometimes, a case comes along that poses a potential conflict of interest, requires expertise that can't be found in-house, or just takes too much time.

In those scenarios, officials look outside the city attorney's office to hire a private law firm. That gets expensive.

Saddled with long and costly legal battles, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach have paid nearly $9 million to private law firms over the past five years - more than twice the combined amount spent by Norfolk, Portsmouth and Suffolk.

"When we go through and see how much we have spent on outside counsel, I think we can do better," said Chesapeake Councilwoman Patricia Willis, who is a lawyer.

City Attorney Ronald Hallman said Chesapeake is a "growing city and has faced a host of unique legal matters" including opposition to a planned North Carolina landfill, the Battlefield Golf Club fly ash case, and a challenge to a police test by the U.S. Justice Department. All of these cases required specific expertise and lots of time, which equals large bills.

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