In the case of C.G. & R.G. v. Winslow Twp. Bd. of Educ., 2015 WL 7760356 (D.N.J. Dec. 2, 2015), the court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to over $47,000 in attorney’s fees despite the challenge by the defendants, who argued that the plaintiffs were not entitled to any attorney’s fees. However, the court did concede that the plaintiff’s attorney’s billing was problematic, having amassed excessive block billing charges from April through September of 2013. This case serves as a reminder that firms need to make sure that associates and partners are billing efficiently for tasks performed.
The court examined the attorney’s billing patterns and found that there was significant block billing that even spanned several days. Due to Mr. Epstein’s block billing, tasks that should have taken a significantly shorter amount of time, were actually billed almost double the amount of time. Moreover, the tasks were not separated out to enable to the court to be sure of the time devoted to each task.
Nonetheless, the court discovered that his billing was excessive compared to an associate in the firm who attended many of the same meetings and conferences and performed similar preparation needed for the duration of the case. Mr. Epstein, the plaintiff’s attorney and a partner, billed inefficiently based on his experience, having expertise in several key areas of the case. However, he was billing more time than his associate for tasks that should have taken him less time to do.
The court found that Mr. Epstein had a significant difference in billing than his associate while he did nothing differently that would produce a difference in time for billing. The court stated, “Mr. Epstein and Ms. Adams attended the same due process hearing, and there is no justification for this disparity in billing. Ms. Adams billed at a rate of $135.00 per hour, whereas Mr. Epstein’s stipulated reasonable hourly rate is $425 per hour—more than three times the rate of Ms. Adams. As rates increase, the reasonable time expended for the same matter decreases.” This was examined further when the court found that Mr. Epstein specialized in education law. His specialization and experience should decrease, not increase, the time necessary to prepare for a routine due process hearing. See Holmes v. Millcreek Twp. Sch. Dist., 205 F.3d 583, 596 (3d Cir. 2000) (“with experience, the amount of time spent performing routine tasks in an area of one’s expertise should decrease[ ]”).
Because of this block billing and excessive time billed, along with vague entries, tasks for which the attorney was overqualified, and work on unrelated matters, the plaintiffs were entitled to just over $47,000, representing a 50% reduction from the requested fee amount. If the firm had monitored the billing practices of this individual, the line by line deductions could have been avoided. The result of this case proves how vitally important it is to make sure that each member of the firm is billing responsibly.