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Category: Fee Expert / Member

4 Reasons to Get Help on a Fee Requests

November 24, 2017

A recent CEBblog article by Julie Brook, “4 Reasons to Get Help on a Fee Motion,” reports on attorney fee requests.  This article was posted with permission.  The article reads:

Just because you successfully handled the merits of a case doesn’t mean that you should take on a large or complex fee motion that arises from it.  It may be time to bring in someone with fee motion expertise.

Here are four reasons to bring in outside counsel for a fee motion:

  1. The expertise required for fee motions may make it more efficient or effective to hire an experienced fee litigator.
  2. Trial counsel’s credibility or skill is often a major issue, and an outside attorney adds objectivity to the presentation.
  3. Fee applications can become very time-consuming, and trial counsel’s efforts might be better spent on matters more within his or her areas of expertise.
  4. The cost to trial counsel (“fees on fees”) can be claimed from the opponent  (see Serrano v Unruh (Serrano IV) (1982) 32 C3d 621 (prevailing party is entitled to fees for time spent preparing and litigating fee application)).

On the other hand, there might be reasons for handling fee motions “in-house” in some cases, particularly if the law firm or program seeking the fees has an attorney with sufficient expertise.  Keep in mind that, just because outside counsel potentially can recover his or her fees (“fees on fees”) from the opponent doesn’t mean it will happen—there’s a risk that the court will deny the motion for fees or refuse to award all of the fees sought, leaving your firm on the hook.

Regardless of whether you decide to use outside counsel, make sure that your law firm designates one of its attorneys to be primarily responsible for maximizing attorney fee recoveries.  Otherwise, the firm is likely to miss deadlines or make mistakes early in the case that even the best outside counsel will be unable to remedy.  This is particularly critical if you represent low-income clients in certain civil rights, employment, or public interest cases and statutory attorney fees are your only source of payment if you win.

Fee Allocation Dispute in NFL Concussion Litigation

October 30, 2017

A recent Legal Intelligencer story by Max Mitchell, “NFL Concussion Lawyers Pile on Seeger’s $70M Fee Request” reports that nearly 20 attorneys and firms involved in the NFL concussion litigation are challenging a lead attorney’s proposal for divvying up $112 million in attorney fees, which had allocated the lion’s share to his firm.  According to court filings, 16 firms and one former member of the plaintiff’s steering committee have filed objections to the proposal that Christopher Seeger submitted to the court in mid-October.  That proposal had included more than $70 million for his firm, Seeger Weiss.  Among the firms that submitted objections to the proposal are Anapol Weiss, home to Sol Weiss, who is co-lead counsel with Seeger in the litigation.

Anapol’s response proposed an alternative methodology for the court to use in dividing up the fees.  The suggested formula would not rely as heavily on lodestar multipliers and would accounted for hours spent working toward significant benchmarks in the litigation, rather than applying a “straight-line mathematical computation” that treated all hours equally, the filing said.

The 15-page alternative proposal, which was filed by Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti attorney Gaetan Alfano, said it would more adequately account for Anapol’s role in developing the litigation and hammering out the settlement agreement.

“While Seeger and Anapol shared the role of co-lead class counsel, the Seeger firm’s proposed apportionment would leave one co-lead class counsel firm (Seeger) with 65.4 percent of the attorneys’ fees and the other (Anapol) with 4.3 percent of the attorneys’ fees,” the filing said in a footnote.  “The Seeger firm requests that this court award it over 15 times the fees that it allocated to its co-lead counsel, Anapol.  On its face, Mr. Seeger’s proposed apportionment is grossly inequitable, given, inter alia, Anapol’s extensive contributions to the case.”

In an emailed statement to the press, Seeger said, “We believe this allocation is reasonable and well within the precedent set in similar cases. Judge [Anita] Brody will ultimately determine the final allocation, and we appreciate her consideration of this matter.”

On Oct. 10, Seeger filed a 22-page declaration to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asking the court to award his firm $70.4 million.  The money, according to the request, would compensate Seeger Weiss for a total of 21,044 hours that his firm spent on the litigation since he was appointed to represent the class in 2012.

Although many of the responses took issue with the lodestar multipliers Seeger used to develop his proposal, some contended that a neutral special master needed to be appointed to handle the fees and others said the proposal was premature.

“To avoid even the appearance of placing their own financial interests ahead of the retired NFL players’ needs, class counsel is urged to join this motion and voluntarily seek to defer any ruling on payment of claimed attorneys’ fees until after at least the majority of the players have been paid,” Tampa-based attorney Steven Yerrid of the Yerrid Law Firm said in his firm’s response.  “With all respect, the undersigned submits this case must first be about the players’ well-deserved compensation and not the compensation of the lawyers representing them.”

Florida Supreme Court Rules on Fee Issue in Insurance Coverage Litigation

October 24, 2017

A recent FC&S Legal article by Steven Meyerowitz, “The Florida Supreme Court Just Made It Easier for Insureds’ Attorneys to get Big Fee Awards,” reports on a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court in Joyce v. Federated National Ins. Co.  The article reads:

The Florida Supreme Court, in an insurance coverage dispute, has rejected appellate court rulings that trial courts may apply a contingency fee multiplier to an award of legal fees to a prevailing party only in “rare” and “exceptional” circumstances.

The Case

William and Judith Joyce, an elderly retired couple, filed a claim for insurance benefits with their homeowners’ insurance carrier, Federated National Insurance Company, following water damage to their home. Federated National denied coverage on the basis of alleged material misrepresentations made by the Joyces in the application process – namely, that the Joyces had failed to disclose certain losses they had with their previous carrier.

The Joyces hired an attorney on a contingency fee basis and sued Federated National, alleging that the insurer had wrongfully denied their claim. After months of litigation, Federated National finally agreed to settle.  The parties stipulated that the Joyces were entitled to recover reasonable legal fees under Florida Statutes Section 627.428.

At the fee hearing, the trial court heard testimony from the Joyces’ attorney and fee expert and Federated National’s fee expert.  The trial court also examined certain evidence exhibits, including time records for the Joyces’ attorney and a copy of the contingency fee agreement.

After the hearing, the trial court awarded the Joyces $76,300 in attorneys’ fees, using a two-step process.  First, the court calculated the “lodestar” amount – the number of hours reasonably incurred by the Joyces’ attorney, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate – as being $38,150, or 109 hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate of $350.  Second, the trial court applied a contingency fee multiplier of 2.0 to the lodestar amount.

Federated National appealed both the trial court’s calculation of the lodestar amount and its use of the contingency fee multiplier.  The appellate court affirmed the lodestar amount but reversed the trial court’s use of a contingency fee multiplier, concluding that the lodestar approach included a “strong presumption” that the lodestar represented the “reasonable fee.”

Florida Law

Section 627.428, Florida Statutes provides:

(1) Upon the rendition of a judgment or decree by any of the courts of this state against an insurer and in favor of any named or omnibus insured or the named beneficiary under a policy or contract executed by the insurer, the trial court or, in the event of an appeal in which the insured or beneficiary prevails, the appellate court shall adjudge or decree against the insurer and in favor of the insured or beneficiary a reasonable sum as fees or compensation for the insured’s or beneficiary’s attorney prosecuting the suit in which the recovery is had.

The Florida Supreme Court’s Decision

The court quashed the appellate court’s decision.  First, the court reviewed its precedent regarding contingency fee multipliers and declared that it was “clear” that it had “never limited the use of contingency fee multipliers to only ‘rare’ and ‘exceptional’ circumstances.”

In fact, the court said, it had recognized “the importance of contingency fee multipliers to those in need of legal counsel” and it had made clear that trial courts “could consider contingency fee multipliers any time the requirements for a multiplier were met.”

In the court’s opinion, the contingency fee multiplier provided trial courts with the “flexibility” to ensure that lawyers who took a difficult case on a contingency fee basis were “adequately compensated.”The court rejected the argument that a contingency fee multiplier encouraged “nonmeritorious claims” and said, instead, that solely because a case was “difficult” or “complicated” did not mean that the case was nonmeritorious.  “Indeed, without the option of a contingency fee multiplier, those with difficult and complicated cases will likely be unable or find it difficult to obtain counsel willing to represent them,” the court said.

The court then disagreed that the possibility of receiving a contingency fee multiplier amounted to a “windfall.”  The court concluded that there was not a “rare” and “exceptional” circumstances requirement before a contingency fee multiplier could be applied.  It decided that the trial court’s findings, “which properly considered the complexity of these types of cases and this case in particular,” were not in error, and it ordered the appellate court to reinstate the reinstate the attorneys’ fees award.

Nation’s Top Attorney Fee Experts of 2017

October 11, 2017

Every year, NALFA announces the nation’s top attorney fee experts.  Attorney fee experts are judicially qualified experts who provide expert testimony on the reasonableness of attorney fees and expenses in underlying cases.  Attorney fee experts also include court adjuncts such as bankruptcy fee examiners, special fee masters, and fee dispute neutrals.  Attorney fee experts are often retained by fee-seeking and fee-challenging parties to independently prove attorney fees and expenses in court or arbitration.

NALFA helps organize and recognize qualified attorney fee experts from across the U.S. and around the globe.  The following profile quotes are based on bio, CV, case summaries, and case materials provided to NALFA.  Here are the nation’s top attorney fee experts of 2017:

John D. O’Connor: “Nation’s Top Attorney Fee Expert”
O’Connor & Associates
San Francisco, CA

Andre E. Jardini: “30 Years of Fee Audit and Expert Experience”
KPC Legal Audit Services
Glendale, CA

Stephen J. Herman: "Outstanding Skills Assessing Attorney Fees in Class Actions"
Herman Herman & Katz
New Orleans, LA

Gary E. Mason: “Highly Skilled on a Range of Fee and Billing Issues”
Whitfield Bryson & Mason
Washington, DC

Robert M. Fishman: "Nation's Top Bankruptcy Fee Examiner"
Shaw Fishman
Chicago, IL

Nancy B. Rapoport: "Outstanding Record as a Bankruptcy Fee Examiner"
UNLV Boyd School of Law
Las Vegas, NV

Kerrie Rosati: "Great Skills Resolving Fee Disputes Between Parties"
DGT Costs Lawyers
Sydney, Australia

Elise S. Frejka: "Widely Respected as a Bankruptcy Fee Examiner"
Frejka PLLC
New York , NY

Robert L. Kaufman: “Experienced on Cumis Counsel Fees and Billings”
Woodruff Spradlin & Smart
Costa Mesa, CA

Glenn Newberry: “Understands Legal Billing Issues Across Borders”
Eversheds Sutherland
London, United Kingdom

George F. Indest: “Excellent on Attorney Fee Issues in Florida”
Health Law Firm
Altamore Springs, FL

Blog post note: This blog post caused a bit of a hubbub among some.  As such, we've added a blog post comment section where all are free to comment publicly.

National Law Journal Cites NALFA Program

September 11, 2017

A recent NLJ article by Amanda Bronstad, “Judges Look to Profs in Awarding Lower Percentage Fees in Biggest Class Actions,” quotes NALFA’s CLE program, “View From the Bench: Awarding Attorney Fees in Federal Litigation” in an article on class action fee awards.  The full article reads:

After reaching a $101 million class action settlement to resolve lawsuits brought over a chemical spill that contaminated a West Virginia river, the plaintiffs lawyers asked a federal judge to grant them 30 percent of the fund as contingency fees.

The judge praised their work but found that fee request to be just too high.  "Even without accounting for fund size, the empirical literature clearly demonstrates that a 30 percent fee is higher than that awarded in the vast majority of class actions," U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver of the Southern District of West Virginia wrote in a July order.  "Courts have found through empirical analysis that larger common funds typically have smaller percentage fees."

The empirical analysis Copenhaver referred to came from the findings of two leading academic reports — both cited in the opinion — that federal judges across the country have used for the past decade to guide them in decisions about attorney fees in some of the nation's largest class action settlements.

New York University School of Law professor Geoffrey Miller and the late Theodore Eisenberg, a professor at Cornell Law School, wrote one of the studies, an updated version of which is set to be published this year.  The second is a 2010 study conducted by Brian Fitzpatrick, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.

Both studies have provided critical assistance for federal judges, particularly when it comes to class action settlements of $100 million or more.  The concern for those on the bench is how to award plaintiffs lawyers for their work without granting them excessive fees and leaving class members in the lurch.

"Judges do take the role seriously," said William Rubenstein, a professor at Harvard Law School whose highly regarded "Newberg on Class Actions" has cited the Eisenberg/Miller and Fitzpatrick studies in his 11-volume treatise, alongside data he has used from a former publication called Class Action Attorney Fee Digest.  "And they understand they're a bulwark against excessive fees from the class members' money."

How to determine the exact amount has often been more art than science.  In a webinar earlier this year hosted by the National Association of Legal Fee Analysis, U.S. District Judge David Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois, who has handled several of the nation's largest mass torts and class actions, said a lot depends on the amount of recovery to the class.

"It just depends … on the case and what the benefit is that the lawyers have achieved by their work," he said at the webinar, called "View from the Bench: Awarding Attorney Fees in Federal Litigation."  "If it's reasonable, then you can approve the contingency, but if it's pretty far out of whack maybe you've got to have the lawyers justify the difference or perhaps go with the lodestar.  There are a lot of things to look at."

And there are outside concerns as well.  Judges have increasing scrutiny from appeals courts, which often take up the petitions of objectors to class action settlements, Rubenstein said.  "Public policy generally cautions against awarding too high a fee," Copenhaver wrote in the West Virginia water case.  "The court's challenge is to award a fee that both compensates the attorneys with a risk premium on their skill and labor and avoids a windfall."

Last month, plaintiffs lawyers in the case submitted a renewed motion for settlement approval that lowered their fee request to 25 percent — more in line with what Copenhaver had found was reasonable.

Judges often look to previous case decisions, or their own experience, to determine what amount is appropriate to award lawyers in class actions.  They also get a list of cases from the lawyers — but those often come with vested interests.  For a long time, there was limited statistical data on what other judges had done.  That's where Fitzpatrick said he and the Eisenberg-Miller team tried to give judges a starting point.

"We tried to give the judges the full data instead of just leaving them at the whim of the cherry-picked cases the lawyers give them," he said.  "The judges don't have to replicate what other courts have done, but they have the opportunity to stick within the mainstream of what their colleagues have done if they want it now that they have the power of empirical studies."

Miller said he came up with the idea while serving as an expert witness in cases.  When his first report with Eisenberg published in 2004, one year before the U.S. Class Action Fairness Act passed, the political atmosphere was rife with criticism about attorney fees in class actions.  At the time, only one group had looked at the data — but it wasn't really a controlled study.

"On the issue of fees, the data was there but hadn't been developed," he said.  Eisenberg wasn't an expert on class actions, Miller said, "but he was the leading person probably in the world who was doing empirical studies of legal material."  Their report looked at published data of class action settlements from 1993 to 2002.

By the time of their second report in 2009, which expanded the data through 2008, Miller and Eisenberg had some competition.  Fitzpatrick thought that their report, like those before it, relied too much on "ad hoc" data that focused primarily on bigger, published decisions.  "I really endeavored to find every last one to have the complete and representative picture," he said.

He came up with a wider range of class action settlements within a shorter period of time — just 2006 and 2007.  Combined, both reports have been cited by judges more than 100 times, Miller said.  And they often involve the biggest settlements in dollar amount, he said.  "The issue is that there aren't as many cases," he said.  "There's less data. And that puts an additional premium on getting what data there is, so that's one reason judges look to this research in big cases."

Another came in 2012, he said, when U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas, the former chairwoman of the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, endorsed both studies in a case called In re Heartland Payment Systems Customer Data Security Breach Litigation: "District courts increasingly consider empirical studies analyzing class-action-settlement fee awards to set the appropriate percentage benchmark or to test the reasonableness of a given benchmark," she wrote.  "Using these studies alleviates the concern that the number selected is arbitrary."

Economies of Scale

Both studies have come out with slight differences in their specific findings.  But they came to the same conclusions: The vast majority of judges award fees based on a percentage of the total settlement amount — then cross-check that amount against the total number of hours the lawyers billed multiplied by the hourly rate, referred to as the lodestar.  There's a good reason for that trend.

"It's economies of scale," Miller said.  "Judges understand that to get a $1 billion settlement is not 1,000 times harder for an attorney to get a $1 million settlement.  It's a lot harder, but not 1,000 times harder."

Herndon, in the webinar, said that's just common sense.

"If they got a third of $1 billion, and compared to their lodestar, it would be an astronomical per hour figure," he said.  "There's some common sense in doing something like that, and I don't really have a particular feeling one way or the other, but I think there's certainly authority in the law for doing it."

In fact, many judges who cite the Eisenberg-Miller and Fitzpatrick reports look specifically to the data as it pertains to the size of the settlement in front of them and what the case is about.

But Fitzpatrick questioned whether judges were doing the right thing in lowering the percentages as the settlements get bigger.  "I think the judges are responding to perception when they do that and they're not responding to good economic policy analysis," he said.  "Because why would we want to punish lawyers with lower percentages for getting their clients more money?"

Not all judges agree with the conclusions made by the professors, who sometimes go up against each other as paid experts in individual cases.  In a $415 million settlement of "no poach" claims involving high-tech workers, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California weighed Fitzpatrick's report against the Eisenberg/Miller study in awarding $40 million in fees.  In that case, Fitzpatrick was a paid expert for the lead plaintiffs attorneys, while Rubenstein cited the Eisenberg-Miller report in a declaration filed on behalf of one of the lead firms that had submitted a separate fee request.

"The court finds the Eisenberg & Miller study more persuasive than the Fitzpatrick study," Koh wrote in a 2015 order, concluding that the "length and large sample size of the Eisenberg & Miller study suggest that its results are entitled to greater weight."

Fitzpatrick said he's working on an updated report, likely to be drafted next year.  "Whenever I hear from these judges, they say the same thing: We love your study but we need more recent data," Fitzpatrick said.  "So that's what I'm trying to give them."  But gathering the data takes a lot of time and money, he said.  He's hired research assistants to code all the data.

The latest Eisenberg-Miller report, co-authored with research scholar Roy Germano at NYU's law school, uses data through 2013.  Without Eisenberg, who died in 2014, Miller said he's not certain he'll keep publishing the report.  "I don't think I'll do it anymore," he said. "It is a lot of work."

NALFA Podcast with Andy Jardini

August 7, 2017

NALFA hosts a podcast series on attorney fee issues.  We talk to thought leaders, attorney fee experts and attorney fee newsmakers who’ve help shape and influence the jurisprudence of reasonable...

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