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%.
Recently in the Northern District of California, a federal judge reduced a fee award by 20%, as a direct result of block-billing. Here, the block billed entries left the court unable to make more detailed reductions based on other billing issues identified, and so the court was forced to resort to the broader 20% reduction on the total fee award. Trustees of the Northern California Tile Industry Pension Trust Fund v. Premier Stone and Tile, Inc., 2016 WL 1182060 (N.D.Ca. Mar. 28, 2016). Similarly, in the Eastern District of New York, the court made a 50% reduction in time for block-billed entries. With attorneys billing for 12-hour blocks of time, and including unrelated tasks that were severable from the fee award, the court could not determine the actual time spent on each task, and could not determine if the bulk of the time was spent on appropriate work, or work that was not subject to the fee award. Meyer Corporation v. Alfay Designs, Inc., 2016 WL 792398 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2016).
In both of these cases, as well as many others, the attorneys might have been able to show the court that the time expended for each task was indeed reasonable, or that a larger portion of the work billed was actually recoverable under the fee award. However, the block-billed entries created too much ambiguity, and as a result the fees were greatly reduced. Whether it is apathy, or sheer laziness, attorneys who refuse to separate unrelated tasks by discrete time entries are costing their firms what might otherwise be billable fees.