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Court Admonishes Firm for Untimely Fee Application and Block Billing Practices

Plaintiff’s counsel was hired to perform an advocacy role for a class of plaintiffs composed of former Willowbrook State Developmental Center patients in N.Y.A.R.C., et al v. Andrew M. Cuomo, et al., Slip Copy, 2019 WL 3288898. Defendants sought court intervention to dispute Plaintiff’s counsels’ fee demands encompassing seven years of work totaling almost 7,000 hours and $3.8 million. New York Ass’n, at 2.

Two of the notable issues in this dispute were block billing and untimely submitted invoices. First, the Court explained that “block billing is generally disfavored because it can ‘have a tendency to obfuscate the amount of time expended on distinct tasks and introduce an element of vagueness into a fee application, making it difficult to determine if the reported hours are duplicative or unnecessary.’” Id. at 6 (citing Miroglio S.P.A v. Conway Stores, Inc. et al., 629 F. Supp. 2d 307, 313). As a result of the block billing, the Court reduced Plaintiffs’ counsel’s fees by 10%. New York Ass’n. at 8. Second, the Court admonished Plaintiff’s billing practices because the fee demands included work from the past seven years. The Court acknowledged the administrative burdens of submitting legal fee requests too frequently, but it ultimately found that once every seven years was “clearly unworkable, inefficient, and ripe for conflict.” Id. at 12. The Court addressed the untimely fee submission issue by directing Plaintiffs’ counsel to submit future fee demands on an annual basis. Id.

In order to withstand court scrutiny, legal fee demands should be clear on what is billed. However, clarity may become distorted when invoices are block-billed and several years old. Block billing and untimely fee submissions inhibit the Court’s ability to determine the reasonableness of the fee petition. Courts must be able to ascertain the reasonableness of the legal fees demanded or the Defendants may face reductions to their fee petitions. Thus, law firms should ensure fees are accurately described and submitted in a timely fashion to avoid expensive and lengthy litigation, as demonstrated here.

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