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Unreasonableness and Overstaffing Cause Fee Reduction

Courts have the discretion to reduce attorneys’ fees if the application is unreasonable or ambiguous and the hourly rate is not reasonable. In Mosley v. Nordquist, 2016 WL 5794480 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 30, 2016), the Court determined that while the substance of the underlying litigation was complex, the issue of the return of confidential documents subject to a protective order certainly was not. This case exemplifies the notion that firms must base staffing decisions on the complexity of the issue at hand and not on the overall complexity of the case.

The Court reviewed the billing records and found that the total hours billed were excessive. The Court determined that the time expended by the plaintiff on the Motion to Compel (22.5 hours), the Motion for Order to Show Cause (22.4 hours), and the Motion for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (28.7 hours) was “light on case law and legal argument” and the Court also concluded that none of the billing attorneys used “billing judgment.” Billing judgment is usually shown by the attorney writing off unproductive, excessive, or redundant hours. Therefore, the Court reduced the total time billed for these motions by half.

A number of itemized entries were inadequately documented with vague or otherwise unproductive descriptions; therefore, the Court concluded that these hours were un- reasonably expended. These items included descriptions such as “analyze…,” “work on…,” “outline…,” “follow up…,” and “prepare to work on…” As the Court concluded, these entries were unreasonable, and thus, not compensable.

Lastly, it was evident from the billing records that partners and “of counsel” billed for work that associates could have done, attorneys billed for work that paralegals could have done, and even clerical work was occasionally billed A number of itemized entries by attorneys appeared to resemble paralegal work. These items included descriptions such as “prepare materials…” and “work on materials…” The Court reduced these entries to the paralegal rate.

There were also entries that included tasks such as calling the court regarding the process for the motion to compel, to check court reporter availability, and to check transcript status. The clerical work reflected in these entries was not compensable.

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