Unreasonableness and Overstaffing Cause Fee Reduction

 Posted by at 9:25 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Unreasonableness and Overstaffing Cause Fee Reduction
Dec 082016
 

Courts have the discretion to reduce attorneys’ fees if the application is unreasonable or ambiguous and the hourly rate is not reasonable. In Mosley v. Nordquist, 2016 WL 5794480 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 30, 2016), the Court determined that while the substance of the underlying litigation was complex, the issue of the return of confidential documents subject to a protective order certainly was not. This case exemplifies the notion that firms must base staffing decisions on the complexity of the issue at hand and not on the overall complexity of the case.

The Court reviewed the billing records and found that the total hours billed were excessive. The Court determined that the time expended by the plaintiff on the Motion to Compel (22.5 hours), the Motion for Order to Show Cause (22.4 hours), and the Motion for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (28.7 hours) was “light on case law and legal argument” and the Court also concluded that none of the billing attorneys used “billing judgment.” Billing judgment is usually shown by the attorney writing off unproductive, excessive, or redundant hours. Therefore, the Court reduced the total time billed for these motions by half.

A number of itemized entries were inadequately documented with vague or otherwise unproductive descriptions; therefore, the Court concluded that these hours were un- reasonably expended. These items included descriptions such as “analyze…,” “work on…,” “outline…,” “follow up…,” and “prepare to work on…” As the Court concluded, these entries were unreasonable, and thus, not compensable.

Lastly, it was evident from the billing records that partners and “of counsel” billed for work that associates could have done, attorneys billed for work that paralegals could have done, and even clerical work was occasionally billed A number of itemized entries by attorneys appeared to resemble paralegal work. These items included descriptions such as “prepare materials…” and “work on materials…” The Court reduced these entries to the paralegal rate.

There were also entries that included tasks such as calling the court regarding the process for the motion to compel, to check court reporter availability, and to check transcript status. The clerical work reflected in these entries was not compensable.

Billing Judgment-A Necessary Legal Skill?

 Posted by at 9:38 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Billing Judgment-A Necessary Legal Skill?
Nov 142016
 

In Thatcher v. OakBend Medical Center, a prevailing plaintiff in an employment retaliation suit sought an award of attorneys’ fees. 2016 WL 5848889 (S.D. Texas, Oct. 6, 2016). In discussing the reasonableness of the requested fees, the Court addressed the affirmative duty of plaintiff’s counsel to demonstrate that billing judgment was exercised. Id. at 3. As a part of the reasonableness analysis, the plaintiff’s attorney seeking an award of attorneys’ fees must prove that they exercised billing judgment. The exercise of billing judgment is shown by “documentation of the hours charged and of the hours written off as unproductive; excessive, or redundant.” If plaintiff fails to meet this burden, then the Court will impose its own billing judgment by reducing the fees appropriately. Id. In this case, the Court did not find evidence of billing judgment and reduced the requested fees significantly. Id. at 3-6. The Court reduced the requested fees from $190,250.00 to $124,464.14 as a result of plaintiff’s counsel’s lack of billing judgment. Id. at 7. The Court reduced the plaintiff’s requested fees for time billed for work on a failed claim, work on a motion that was never filed, general attorney education time, vague time entries, and excessive communications. Id. at 3-6.

Law firms and their billing practices are under growing scrutiny from their clients and the courts. Even under this ever-increasing scrutiny, the exercise of billing judgment is not a skill many attorneys would deem vital to the practice of law. Reducing your own fees may seem counterproductive. However, as demonstrated in this case, exercising billing judgment may be more beneficial than letting the court or the client impose its own judgment. Documentation of hours written off as unproductive, excessive or redundant is a simple way for attorneys to demonstrate to the court or client that restraint was used in determining the fees charged. The evidence of restraint makes it easier for the court or client to trust the attorney’s invoice and ultimately pay the amount billed by the attorney. Before documenting hours written off, attorneys must become familiar with the types of activities that should be written off or reduced as excessive or unreasonable. Understanding and demonstrating billing judgment is a skill every attorney should strive for in the modern practice of law.

That Should be a Paralegal Task!

 Posted by at 9:16 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized  Comments Off on That Should be a Paralegal Task!
Jun 282016
 

It is not uncommon to see law firms attempt to bill ordinarily paralegal tasks at attorney rates. Courts have started cracking down on this unethical practice. One such example of this is Guerrero v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which the court held that a significant portion of the firm’s charges billed at the full attorney rate would have been better characterized as paralegal work, and should have been billed as such. No. 12-689V, 2015 WL 7820966 (Fed. Cl. Nov. 16, 2015).

The Special Master had deducted 2.2 attorney hours, totaling $781 from Petitioner’s fee award, and awarded 1.5 paralegal hours, totaling $187.50, for billing entries which he found reflected tasks more properly suited to a paralegal hourly rate than an attorney rate. Id at 159. The Special Master re-characterized the hours spent on email and telephonic communications regarding medical records, the expert’s fees, costs, invoice, litigation expenses, Petitioner’s social security number, drafting an Election to Accept Judgment, and a Statement of Completion, and the court proceeded to affirm his re-characterizations. Id. Had this not been caught, the firm would have easily pocketed nearly $500 to which it was not entitled.

In Shabazz v. City of New York, the court found that a substantial number of entries, twenty-three in total, were improperly billed at attorney rates. No. 1:14-CV-6417-GHW, 2015 WL 7779267 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 2, 2015). These entries included time the attorney, Mr. Harvis, spent conducting internet searches, reviewing ECF notices, updating calendar entries, preparing civil cover sheets and affidavits of service, and requesting medical records, and were billed at the full attorney rate of $400 per hour. Id at 4. Ultimately, the court found that the entries were clerical or more suitable for a paralegal, rather than an attorney, and reduced the rate charged for 3.9 hours of work that Mr. Harvis billed at $400 per hour to the paralegal rate of $75 per hour. Id. This saved the client a significant $1,267.

Clients must be more diligent in reviewing their legal bills. By reviewing them with increased scrutiny, or having a third-party auditing service do so, chances are, they will find ways to keep more money in their pockets.
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Billing For Clerical Tasks – A Form of Double Billing?

 Posted by at 10:34 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Billing For Clerical Tasks – A Form of Double Billing?
May 182016
 

Courts are often tasked with determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to award the prevailing party in various types of litigation.  In Snell v. North Thurston School District, the Court was tasked with determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to be awarded to the prevailing party in an American with Disabilities Act suit.  2015 WL 8621913 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 14, 2015).  The Plaintiff, Wendy Snell, successfully sued her daughter’s school district for unlawful discrimination by failing to accommodate her daughter’s disabilities.  After determining that the Plaintiff was a prevailing party under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Court considered several issues to determine the proper award of attorneys’ fees.  These issues included the determination of a reasonable hourly rate and reasonable hours expended in light of block billing within the Plaintiff’s attorney’s invoices, the Plaintiff’s degree of success, and most notably, clerical and duplicative work billed by a paralegal.

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The Reasonableness of Block Billing

 Posted by at 10:28 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on The Reasonableness of Block Billing
Apr 042016
 

Block billing is a prevalent problem throughout the legal profession. Although a recent decision by the 9th Circuit found an attorney’s block billed entries to be adequate, the court still based its decision on the reasonableness of time billed for the given task.

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Fees Reduced for Non-payable Tasks

 Posted by at 12:08 pm  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Fees Reduced for Non-payable Tasks
Apr 012016
 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed several objections to Plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees including complaints of block billing and vague entries in Pigford v. Vilsack, 2015 WL 7432322 (D.D.C. Nov. 23, 2015). Ms. Sanders acted as one of plaintiff’s class counsel and was tasked with assisting in the wind-down stipulation and order from September to December, 2014.

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It’s All in the Details!

 Posted by at 12:15 pm  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on It’s All in the Details!
Mar 252016
 

In Restivo v. Nassau County, there are four principal issues that the defendants brought forth to dispute the payment of attorneys’ fees (2015 WL 7734100 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2015)). First, they argued that the plaintiff’s attorneys’ staffing was unreasonable. The Court stated that the defendants did not produce any persuasive evidence showing any particular phase of the case was overstaffed; thus indicating if the defendants had provided some evidence of overstaffing, the court might have found in their favor.

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Copying Costs – How much is too much?

 Posted by at 11:46 am  Uncategorized  Comments Off on Copying Costs – How much is too much?
Mar 182016
 

In a recent U.S. District Court case, it was determined that copying costs must be reasonably related to the litigation, and such costs for copies must not be excessive.  In Mars Area Sch. Dist. v. C. L., No. 2:14-CV-1728, 2015 WL 8207463, at *8 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2015), the Court ruled in favor of the School District on the basis that the opposing party did not provide an explanation of why so many copies were necessary.  The Appellee in this case sought reimbursement for 4,445 copies at a rate of $0.20 per page.  The argument was that the copies were exhibits needed for hearings.  However, only 70 pages of exhibits were submitted for the hearing.  No further explanation of why the remaining copies were needed was provided.  Therefore, the Court concluded ‘[w]ithout any cogent explanation having been provided . . . the number of copies is excessive,” and reduced the quantity for reimbursement to 1,000 copies.

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Attorneys’ Fees Drastically Cut for Multiple Improper Billing Charges

 Posted by at 9:33 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Attorneys’ Fees Drastically Cut for Multiple Improper Billing Charges
Mar 012016
 

In this case, the petitioner’s attorneys’ fees were reduced by $146,790.69 due to multiple improper charges. First, the Court reduced the petitioners’ counsel’s billable hours for administrative work. For example, the attorney spent 18.38 hours reviewing invoices, setting up meetings, and making travel arrangements and spent an additional 71 hours filing documents. Continue reading »

Outrageous Attorney’s Fees of $153,525 Requested For Moderate Success in a Typical Landlord-Tenant Dispute Reduced to $10,000

 Posted by at 9:22 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Uncategorized, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Outrageous Attorney’s Fees of $153,525 Requested For Moderate Success in a Typical Landlord-Tenant Dispute Reduced to $10,000
Feb 222016
 

When a tenant sues his landlord and apartment managers for violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), moderate success at trial of a typical landlord-tenant dispute does not entitle a tenant’s attorney to $153,525 in fees.  Youssef v. Wheatley, No. B257828, 2015 WL 8037231 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2015).  In Yousef, a tenant alleged several causes of action against his landlord and apartment managers after a series of unfortunate events that resulted in a physical altercation between the apartment manager and tenant.  After an unsuccessful attempt by the landlord to evict the tenant based on the apartment manager’s claim that the tenant instigated the altercation, the tenant brought suit alleging violations of FEHA, conspiracy to violate his civil rights and malicious prosecution.  The tenant sought compensatory damages for his emotional distress and punitive damages based on the landlord’s and managers’ malice or oppression.  The California trial court directed verdicts for the defendants as to plaintiff’s claims of conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and punitive damages.  The jury found the defendants liable for the FEHA violations and awarded plaintiff $5,000.  Plaintiff’s attorney requested an award of $153,525 in attorney’s fees for 319.5 hours of legal work performed in this case.  The trial court awarded plaintiff’s attorney a mere $10,000 after determining that the request was excessive and unjustified based on the attorney’s limited success in this routine matter.

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