A recent Big Law Business story by Julianne Tobin Wojay, “Judge Trims Rates, Hours in Hague Convention Fee Request,” reports that an “unquestionably” experienced intellectual property attorney’s lack of experience in child abduction matters requires reducing the fees he billed, a New York federal trial court said.
Moreover his firm agreed to work for free, and thus “did not expect to be paid for its services or reimbursed for its expenses,” U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said.
Parents who obtain return of a child under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction are entitled to recoup their legal fees from the kidnapping parent.
This “prevailing party” fee award is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the attorney by a reasonable rate, Rakoff explained.
To determine if the requested rate is reasonable, courts consider whether it’s “in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation,” he said.
While the fact that services were provided free, or pro bono, doesn’t make a fee award “clearly inappropriate,” it can warrant a reduction in the amount awarded, Rakoff said.
Frederick L. Whitmer, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, billed his $875 standard hourly rate for his successful efforts in returning a woman’s child to the Dominican Republic after the girl was unlawfully brought to the U.S. by her father, the case summary showed.
However, despite 40-plus years of litigation experience, he has appeared in a Hague case “only once before” and “apparently has no other experience with family law,” Rakoff found.
“His representation in this case, though able, often reflected this inexperience,” Rakoff said, deciding that “only a rate of $400 per hour is warranted.”
Likewise, the standard rate charged by his colleague, a Harvard Law graduate who is “of counsel” at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, must be reduced, Rakoff said.
Trademark attorney Lisa Willis “has no prior experience with Hague Convention matters or domestic or international family law,” he said, dropping her hourly rate from $295 to $250.
Additionally, the 510 total hours they billed “are excessive-perhaps due to the relative inexperience in this area of law,” Rakoff said, trimming the hours by 30 percent.
The mother was represented by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, and the father by Law Offices of Nolan Klein, P.A.
The case is Duran-Peralta v. Luna, 2018 BL 123358, S.D.N.Y., No. 16 Civ. 7939 (JSR), 4/1/18.