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Reduction of Fees for Ambiguous & Non-Contemporaneous Time Sheets

Courts have the discretion to reduce an award for attorney’s fees if the application is unreasonable or ambiguous and the hourly rate is not reasonable. In a case from the US District Court for the District of Columbia, an award of attorney’s fees was reduced because the fee application contained “over-broad time increments,” “ambiguity in time sheets,” and the hourly rate was unreasonable.

To determine the reasonableness of an attorney’s fee application, the application must include contemporaneous time records of hours worked with a detailed description of the subject matter of the work performed. The attorney in this case kept daily time sheets with hourly and half-hourly increments for specific cases, but the entries did not describe the specific tasks performed. She failed to describe the increments used in preparing the fee application. These after-the-fact estimates of time expended are insufficient for an award of attorney’s fees. The Court ruled that a “contemporaneous, complete and standardized” time record must accurately reflect the work done.

The Court also reduced the award for an unreasonable hourly rate. A reasonable hourly fee is determined by “the prevailing market rate in the relevant community.” The Court determined that the evidence submitted by the billing attorney reflected rates from some of the largest firms across the nation and not for attorneys of comparable skill in the geographic area. It is likely that a large multi-national firm that offers more services, has a better reputation, or has the ability to address the more complex matters will be able to charge a higher rate than most smaller firms. See Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department of Justice, No. 12-1491 (JDB), 2015 WL 6529371 (Oct. 27, 2015).

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