A 30% reduction in fees warranted by the New York Federal District Court, slashing fees for legal research and multi-teaming
Posted on February 2nd, 2017 by Legal Fee Advisors
By Sarah Chin.
In a case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law, the plaintiff brought an action against Rite Aid for, amongst other things, discharging him from his job as a pharmacist on account of his phobia of needles. With the plaintiff succeeding, the Northern District Court of New York applied a subsequent 30% reduction to the plaintiff’s requested attorney fees. The Court found that although the hourly billing rates of $140 to $200 for associates and $235 to $350 for partners were in an acceptable range, the time spent by the plaintiff’s counsel was excessive.
In determining the reasonableness of the hours expended, the Court considered the level of difficulty of the issues involved as well as the level of duplication by counsel. Here, the Court found that the issues involved were not “overly complex” in light of the counsel’s experience and specialized knowledge. Subsequently, the Court found that the 123 hours spent on legal research prior to trial was excessive.
In addition, the Court found it unreasonable that multiple attorneys were engaged in routine tasks, including “overseeing the production of discovery materials and preparing for depositions.” The firm also charged time for inter-office conferences and internal email exchanges at the full rate of each timekeeper, not at a discounted rate. In other instances, two partners and one associate billed at their full rates during trial even when one attorney was not substantially involved in the trial. Further, the Court noted that although not every time entry was block billed, the majority of entries appeared to be so, making it difficult for the Court to assess the reasonableness of the fees.
Although counsel claimed they had already removed over 300 hours of “training” time from the fee application, the Court did not agree that this was enough. The Court emphasized that a reasonable fee means a firm should not engage in an excessive amount of time on all details of the case. For the reasons above, the Court applied an across-the-board reduction of 30% to the total requested fee, resulting in a reduction to the $560,636.50 in attorney fees to just $393,445.55.
The decision illustrates that courts are skeptical when attorneys spend excessive and unreasonable time on matters, especially in light of attorney experience and the difficulty and novelty of the issues at hand. Thus, attorneys should scrutinize their billing practices and also only bill clients for “the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively.”
Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp., No. 6:13-CV-783, 2016 WL 6652774 (N.D.N.Y. July 6, 2016)
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