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Attorneys Unable to Strategize a Way out of Fee Reductions

In accessing proper attorneys’ fees and costs, reasonableness is the name of the game. Courts consider both the reasonableness of the billing rate as well as the reasonableness of the time expended for each task. A recent case out of the Southern District of New York highlights this essential factor. In McGlone v. Contract Callers, Inc., No. 11 CIV. 3004 (JSR), 2015 WL 7695145 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2015), Judge Rakoff awarded plaintiffs $393,505.12 in attorneys’ fees, which was only 75% of what they were seeking to recover. The court found plaintiffs’ attorneys’ rates to be excessive for several of the tasks itemized on their time sheets. For example, charging $500/hour for the preparation of “deposition digests,” or summaries, was deemed unreasonable since a paralegal or junior associate could have performed this work. The court also found some of the work performed to be unnecessarily duplicative when representation switched from Penn Dodson, Esq. to three attorneys from Mandel Bhandari, LLP and ruled that other entries were “difficult to dis-aggregate” as the attorneys blocked traditional paralegal tasks together with work usually reserved for a more experienced attorney.

Lastly, the court seemed especially troubled by an entry on Ms. Dodson’s time sheet in which she engaged in “big-picture strategy communications” with her partner. While some intra-office communications may be essential to the case, reasonableness must be exercised and, here, the court found the billing rate of $450/hour to be unreasonable for this strategizing session. Ultimately, clients pay for an attorney’s experience and there is a greater level of efficiency expected at a rate such as this.

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