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Court Gives “Haircut” to Attorney’s Fees in Case against Motion Picture Health Plan: A Moderate Approach that is more like Hairspray than Sweeney Todd

After a successful outcome from a lawsuit claiming ERISA violations, plaintiff’s attorney sought compensation for his time and efforts devoted to the case for his client. Dragu v. Motion Picture Indus. Health Plan for Active Participants, 2016 WL 454066 (N.D. Cal. February 5, 2016). Applying the traditional lodestar method, Attorney James Keenley requested $120,270 in fees. The district court addressed each of the defendant’s seven objections in turn and, borrowing language from Moreno v. City of Sacramento, exercised its discretion to give “a haircut” to some of the fees (534 F. 3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2008)).

Mr. Keenley prevailed against defendant’s argument claiming excessive time was spent on handling the motion to dismiss. Additionally, the court did not find entries to be block billed as they did not consist of multiple tasks, but rather single, time-consuming tasks. However, the court got out its judicial scissors and cut down time spent on clerical tasks, intra-office communications, prepping, and reviewing both briefs and the record. The court took a moderate but fair stand and acknowledged that while reviewing notices and orders is a necessary and important part of practicing law, too much time spent on such tasks is inefficient (trimming this time by one hour). Similarly, intra-office communications can be beneficial as a way to “collaborate and brainstorm” regarding important issues and strategies but certain matters are not worth seeking input from fellow professionals (cut this time by 0.9 hours). And, when an attorney is extremely familiar with the record, he does not need to spend a great deal of time preparing for a hearing (for this, the court shaved time spent preparing by 20%).

This case is a good example of how ideal legal billing should operate: attorneys get compensated fairly for their diligent work and appropriate time spent handling their clients’ cases and the reimbursing party only pays what it reasonably owes.

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