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Inability to Provide Contemporaneous Billing Records Results in Fee Reduction

Following Plaintiff’s successful judgement in a no-fault benefits recovery case, the action for determination of an appropriate award of attorney’s fees was assigned to the Civil Court of the City of New York in April of 2019 (AEE Med. Diagnostic, P.C. v. Hereford Ins. Co., 2019 NY Slip Op 29102). The attorney for the Plaintiff testified that she had been admitted to practice for 15 years, had been present at each of the court appearances on the matter, and spent approximately one hour the night before each hearing in preparation for attending same. Additional documents, including the summary judgment motion papers, were also submitted as evidence to support the claim for fees. However, the attorney for Plaintiff admitted that she had kept no contemporaneous time records since 2016 on this matter, nor had she tracked the time arriving at the court house or leaving for any of the appearance dates she was able to recollect. Further, while she testified that she typically arrived at court around 9:30 a.m., she was not able to confirm how many cases she had on the court calendar at each appearance, ranging from one to ten cases per date. Plaintiff’s counsel even admitted that she had partially relied on her recorded absences from work over the past several years to determine her appearance dates in this matter, assuming she was present in court on the days she was not otherwise out of the office. In evaluating an appropriate fee award, the court determined that the Plaintiff did not meet its burden of “establishing the amount of hours reasonably spent on legal work in this action,” which would have been best accomplished through contemporaneous time records kept by the attorney. The court further noted that Plaintiff’s attorney’s testimony on the hours she spent was “essentially an educated guess based on her routine and custom.” The court ultimately awarded Plaintiff only 1/2 hour per each of the six trial dates, a 50% reduction from the one hour requested, based on the failure of Plaintiff’s counsel to provide accurate time records or the number of other cases the attorney was handling in court each of those days. The court awarded one hour of preparation time for each of the appearances, but further reduced the requested award for the preparation of summary opposition papers to only 1/2 hour, again citing lack of evidence provided on the amount of time spent on same. Ultimately, Plaintiff’s attorney fee award was reduced by the court to 9.5 total hours because counsel was only able to support its claim with “guess work.”

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