Block Billing 2.0: Other Variations on this Problematic Billing Practice

 Posted by at 3:41 pm  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Block Billing 2.0: Other Variations on this Problematic Billing Practice
Oct 032017
 

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).

Billing Blunders: A 20% Reduction in Vague, Block-Billed Entries and a 10% Reduction for Overstaffing

 Posted by at 9:10 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Billing Blunders: A 20% Reduction in Vague, Block-Billed Entries and a 10% Reduction for Overstaffing
Jul 202017
 

In National Council of La Raza, et al. v. Barbara K. Cegavske, the court accepted Defendants’ argument that Plaintiffs “over lawyered” the case through needless overstaffing of routine intra-office communications and engaged in faulty billing practices by block billing vague entries. See Nat’l Council of La Raza v. Cegavske, No. 3:12-CV-00316-MMD-VPC, 2017 WL 2683683 (D. Nevada June 21, 2017).
The Court pointed out a number of redundancies in the Plaintiffs’ intra-office communications where the attorneys spent an unreasonable amount of time billing for tasks such as telephone conferencing with co-counsel, strategy meetings, emails, and reviewing each other’s filings. The court deducted an additional 10 percent from the attorneys’ fees, despite a voluntary reduction of 10 percent by the firm, due to the severe nature of the redundancies.
Additionally, the Court mandated a further 20% reduction to block-billed, vague entries. The Court found that the Plaintiffs block billed these vague entries in such a manner that the Court could not even determine whether the time spent on those tasks was reasonable. The Court accepted the Defendants’ argument that the Plaintiffs’ attorneys did not bill with “the appropriate level of specificity and erroneously billed for hours spent on an unrelated case.”
This case exemplifies the need for specificity and precision with regard to legal billing and the consequential reduction in fees the court can make if the attorneys’ fees are not recorded with the correct level of detail. Further, the court placed an emphasis on the need for attorneys to allocate their resources properly to avoid overstaffing and redundant work to prevent a consequential reduction in fees by the Court.

Block-Billed Entries Lead to Block Cuts to Invoices

 Posted by at 2:46 pm  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Block-Billed Entries Lead to Block Cuts to Invoices
May 312016
 

Law firms who practice block-billing are opening themselves up to the risk of having their billed fees greatly reduced. Block-billing makes it incredibly difficult for courts, and clients, to determine the reasonableness of the attorney time spent on each task, and therefore, courts across the country have routinely decided to make substantial percentage deductions to attorneys’ fees, ranging from 10-25%.

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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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Attorney cannot refuse to provide a detailed description in motion for attorney’s fees on the ground that the information is protected by attorney-client privilege

 Posted by at 9:33 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Attorney cannot refuse to provide a detailed description in motion for attorney’s fees on the ground that the information is protected by attorney-client privilege
Mar 072016
 

In a recent case before the Unites States District Court, Northern District of California, the court denied an attorney’s fees motion for failing to include a detailed description of the work performed, even though it acknowledged that the attorney has “legitimate concerns” over disclosing privileged information.  See Venture Corporation v. Barrett, 2015 WL 8588239 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 2015).

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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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Court Gives “Haircut” to Attorney’s Fees in Case against Motion Picture Health Plan: A Moderate Approach that is more like Hairspray than Sweeney Todd

 Posted by at 9:23 am  Court Decisions, Interesting Fee Cases, Overbilling, Weekly Wrap-Up  Comments Off on Court Gives “Haircut” to Attorney’s Fees in Case against Motion Picture Health Plan: A Moderate Approach that is more like Hairspray than Sweeney Todd
Feb 162016
 

After a successful outcome from a lawsuit claiming ERISA violations, plaintiff’s attorney sought compensation for his time and efforts devoted to the case for his client.  Dragu v. Motion Picture Indus. Health Plan for Active Participants, 2016 WL 454066 (N.D. Cal. February 5, 2016). Applying the traditional lodestar method, Attorney James Keenley requested $120,270 in fees.  The district court addressed each of the defendant’s seven objections in turn and, borrowing language from Moreno v. City of Sacramento, exercised its discretion to give “a haircut” to some of the fees (534 F. 3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2008)).

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