While many firms today seek to “go green” by reducing paper documents and recycling old files, one firm took this initiative too far. According to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Ramirez v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Bos., No. 3:18-CV-00012-RJC, 2019 WL 4199808, the Court found that 17.7 hours spent drafting a 20 page motion for their attorneys’ fees and cost was excessive. Considering the firm billed the time for drafting this brief at under an hour per page, a reduction may seem Draconian at first glance. However, the Court reviewed the firm’s briefs previously filed in other matters and found that “approximately eleven pages of Plaintiff’s twenty-page brief…are identical to portions of an earlier brief filed by Plaintiff’s counsel.” Id. at 3.
The Court reduced an additional $2,095.00 in attorneys’ fees for clerical tasks, namely “scanning and mailing documents, scheduling mediation, and assembling binders.” Id. at 3. The firm’s time reduced for scheduling mediation is notable, as firms often argue there is some strategic analysis that goes into deciding when mediation should occur, and that there is legal skill involved in negotiating this time with opposing counsel. In this case, however, the Court categorically stated that the scheduling was “purely clerical.” Id. at 3.
The Court also applied a 20% reduction to four block billed entries, and another 20% reduction to an entry it considered vague. However, the Court refused to reduce an entry for .2 hours that states “[r]eturn phone call to [opposing counsel]; Left VM.” Id. at 4. Here, Defendants’ counsel argued that the entry was block billed, but the Court ruled it was “absurd” to suggest that Plaintiff’s counsel should have listed the task of returning a phone call and leaving a message under more than one entry. Alternatively, Defendants’ counsel could have successfully argued that the time billed for this task is unreasonable, as it is perhaps equally “absurd” to bill 12 minutes for leaving a voicemail.
All told, the reductions amounted to $3,938.30, for a total fee award of $80,527.70. Included in the reductions was a 30% cut for the previously mentioned motion for attorneys’ fees. This was, in fact, generous to the firm, considering that over half of the brief’s content was recycled.