A 72% reduction in an attorney fee award demonstrates it costs to have the best representation

Posted on June 24th, 2016 by Legal Fee Advisors

By Emily Wilson

In a recent New York case, the Beastie Boys, a popular music group, obtained judgment against Monster Energy Company, a beverage manufacturer, for contraventions under the Copyright Act and Lanham Act, for the unauthorized use of their song in a promotional video. The group sought an award of fees in the sum of $2.4 million, with the Court, however, approving a fee award of just $667,849 plus costs. The Court’s reasoning included; fees for unnecessary legal work, the partner-heavy staffing by the firm and a holding that the high hourly rates of some staff were not reasonable. Other considerations taken into account were that attorney fees are not generally recoverable under the Lanham Act, the $1.2million in damages already awarded to the group, and that a vast fee reduction of 72% still allowed the Beastie Boys to “come out ahead by some $532,150.86”.

The Court’s greatest criticism was the “extraordinarily partner-heavy nature” of staffing employed by the firm, with four partners billing for their attendance at trial despite only two leading the case. Though the Court was considerate of the fact one partner had a 30 year working relationship with the group, the Court found that the heavy use of partners was still incompatible with long-held principles of reasonableness. Also questioned was the use of block-billing and vague entries. Interestingly however, the Court nonetheless found, despite some time entries of 7 hours or more, there was sufficient clarity in the entries to afford confidence the time was reasonably spent. Further, vague entries were so few and far between that, together with the clarity of the block-billed entries, a reduction in the fee award “more than marginally” was not warranted. Monster also took the position that the fees associated with claims dismissed at trial should not be borne by them. The Court agreed. The fees derived from evidence excluded from trial, contentious expert witnesses, and two claims voluntarily dismissed by the group, were removed.

The hourly rates charged by the firm were also challenged. Associate rates of $461 to $595 were challenged but deemed reasonable amongst state averages. The demanding and complex nature of the associates’ work also contributed to the Court’s allowance. Conversely, the rates of $204.22 to $254.42 for the support staff, whose work was observed by the Court to be professional and of high quality, were nonetheless reduced to a flat $200 in line with previous rulings.

After reviewing the Beastie Boys’ fee motion, the Court stated that the group had “opted to pay for, and received, the Cadillac Escalade, not the Honda Civic”, however it was not reasonable for Monster to bear the fees of such an expense. This case demonstrates the need for firms to employ a cost-benefit analysis towards each of their cases – success in a case does not guarantee all fees incurred will be recoverable. They must balance the interests [and budget] of their client against the likelihood of success and be sure to communicate this effectively to their client.

Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co., 112 F. Supp. 3d 31 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)

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