Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Billing judgment matters.

As I was reading this morning's Above the Law post about a federal court cutting legal fees because the law firm requesting fees failed to use good "billing judgment" (see here), I felt particularly vindicated by the Court's discussion of reasonableness.  I've been focusing on issues about legal fees lately (see here), and I think that it's much easier to rack up high fees and expenses when you're assuming that someone other than your client will be footing the bill.

Check out this language from the Court's opinion, which you can download here, thanks (again) to Above the Law:
The Court recognizes that the work performed on researching, drafting, and arguing the preliminary injunction motion provided important roadmap for Plaintiff with respect to its strategy in pursuing this litigation. However, spending almost 420 hours, which equates to almost 53 full work days7, on drafting and defending a preliminary injunction motion is unreasonable in light of Plaintiff’s counsel’s familiarity with the disputed issues. For the same reasons, spending approximately 50 hours on drafting and revising 11-page supplemental declarations and expending significant number of hours on post-Complaint research and preparation appear unreasonable to the Court.
(Opinion at 16.)  The opinion continues with a reduction, not just of fees, but of expenses as well:
Having considered the invoices submitted by Plaintiff and objections raised by Defendant, the Court finds that some of the expenses incurred by these Signature personnel were unnecessary and unreasonable. For example, it is difficult for the Court to believe, and Plaintiff does not explain how, that the faxing or internet charges incurred at the Westin, frequent “entertainment” charges in addition to meals, numerous first class plane tickets, limousine rides or pick-up service to and from the airport, and approximately $400 nightly stays at Hyatt were necessary and reasonable costs related to this litigation when cheaper more reasonable options were at the witnesses’ disposal. 
(Opinion at 36.)

When a lawyer speaks directly with a client about a high bill, there's that moment when the client is likely to ask about the reasons behind some of the charges.  When a lawyer doesn't have to look the client in the eye, so to speak, it's easier to lose track of what a "reasonable" fee or expense should be.

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