Block billing is almost an unavoidable issue in cases dealing with ascertaining appropriate attorneys’ fees. Some jurisdictions, as the one in Pierce v. Atl. Specialty Ins. Co., generally will reduce the number of hours billed when attorneys use block billing. Here, one attorney billed 115.25 hours in only 13 entries which created several instances of block billing. The court looked at each entry and made reductions. The same was done for two other attorneys. 2017 WL 3996216 (D.N.M. Sept. 8, 2017).
Other jurisdictions are not as quick to require an automatic reduction but will still carefully access the fees and may impose an across-the-board reduction. This is exemplified in another recent case. In this particular case, there were 15 instances of block billing found. For this, as well as duplicative work and excessive time spent, the court made a 10% across-the-board reduction. Div. 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union – New York Employees Pension Fund and its Trustees vs. Anchor Bus Co., Inc., 2017 WL 4049025 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 25, 2017).
However, while it is true that some courts may not reduce entries or make across-the-board reductions when billing records exhibit this problematic billing practice, all courts at least agree that block billing makes it difficult to determine the reasonableness of the time expended on specific tasks. In other words, the presence of block-billing raises a red flag and, at a minimum, calls for a closer review. On ControllingLegalCosts.com, we have addressed block billing often, but here are two related problems that may often be overlooked but are similarly important to avoid:
Disbursements Will be Examined Too
Not only will courts evaluate a firm’s fee section of its bill, but the expense portions are often held to the same level of scrutiny. In Chevalier v. Sec’y of Health and Human Serv., while attorneys’ fees were found to be reasonable, upon examining costs, the court objected to the invoice from the expert. The court stated that as with attorneys, experts should avoid block billing. Here, the doctor billed for 35.5 hours that included reviewing the case file, medical literature, and drafting and revising his report. There were only four time entries spanning over a month. This lack of detail and block billing caused a reduction to 30 hours for this expert. 2017 WL 490426 (Fed. Cl. Jan. 11, 2017).
Splitting Up Entries Too Excessively
Earlier this year, a district court in Massachusetts encountered the “opposite” problem of block billing. Instead of block billing, the attorney billed numerous 0.1 unit entries for the simple review of docket entries or emails. The court speculated that the attorney could have read several of these emails during a six-minute period and should not have charged for them separately, thus driving up the bill. In cases like this, it is more reasonable to “block-bill” the entries, combining these small, simple tasks instead of listing them separately. Melo v. Lawrence Plaza Ltd. P’ship, 2017 WL 489681 (D. Mass. Feb. 6, 2017).