The City of Mercer Island recently settled a $1,000,000 sex discrimination case with one of its employees, but there’s still work to do in the courthouse. The Blankenship Law Firm of Seattle is seeking over $172,000 dollars in attorney’s fees according to court documents. An examination of the bills submitted in the fee petition reveals a number of billing practices that some consider to be objectionable, and the City may make a strong claim to get the fee amount reduced. Listed below are representative entries from the bill and why the city can object them.
This block of entries contains some glaring violations of proper billing procedures. First, multiple attorneys are billing for the same work. “REG” and “NY” are both researching and preparing a memo, but this is work that can be done by one attorney. “SGB” than finalizes the 3 page memo.
Secondly, all three of these entries utilize block billing. Block billing is a practice where attorneys list multiple tasks under one heading. As seen above, it is impossible to tell how much time each individual task took.
Finally, the entry of “NY’ fails for vagueness. An entry must reasonably specify the task that is being performed. “Research” doesn’t give any indication about what work was actually performed, or what topic was being researched.
Besides the block billing, a 15.5 hour day is completely unreasonable. When an attorney bills for 15.5 hours in one day, that means 15.5 hours of billable work was performed – excluding any time needed that involved interruptions, phone calls, or basic nutrition requirements. In 1988, an Illinois Court held it was excessive to bill for 10-15 hour days because “[t]he court knows from experience that this many billable hours would require spending approximately fifteen to nineteen hours per day in the office considering various interruptions, phone calls, breaks and nutrition requirements.”) (emphasis in original)” McNeil v. Economics Laboratory, Inc., 1988 WL 124931 at *5 (N.D. Ill. 1988).
Again, multiple attorneys are doing the work that could have been done by 1 attorney. 4 Attorneys here are preparing for an oral argument, in discussions with each other, for a billable total of 22.5 hours in this one day alone. “Prepare for” is also too vague to submit in a fee request. It does not offer any insight into what the attorney did to prepare for the hearing.
Due to the objectionable charges, it may be possible for the City to successfully petition the court to reduce the amount due.
(via Mercer Island Patch)