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Court Reduces Solo Practitioner’s Fee Award for Overqualified Work and Sloppy Billing Practices

Courts will deny excessive attorney’s fees, and expect law firms to bill tasks at a reasonable rate, regardless of who performs the task. In a recent decision out of the Second Circuit, an Eastern District Court made an across-the-board cut of 33% to a solo practitioner’s award for fees because the attorney was overqualified for some of the tasks performed and also provided vague work descriptions.

The Court found that the attorney was not entitled to his full hourly rate “for time spent on tasks that could have been assigned to an associate attorney, paralegal or administrative professional.” Even though the attorney was a solo practitioner without a support staff, and “performed all of his own work”, it was unreasonable to bill his regular rate for work that another firm would have delegated to more junior level associates or staff. Attorneys can only reasonably bill a higher rate for work product that necessitates the skill to match the rate, and tasks that require a lesser degree of knowledge and experience should then be discounted to a lower rate.

In addition to the plainly overqualified work in the attorney’s fee submission, there were also vague and block billed entries. When attorneys fail to take the time to provide adequate descriptions in their time entries, “such as those for time spent on document review, consultations, and phone calls, which do not contain further elaboration”, or where attorneys are remiss in allocating time for each separate task, then the court will reduce attorneys’ fees since it is “difficult to determine the reasonableness of the time spent on particular tasks”. See Caban v. Employee Sec. Fund of the Elec. Products Indus. Pension Plan, No. 10-CV-389 (SMG), 2015 WL 7454601, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 23, 2015).

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