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Class Counsel Seek $45M in Fees in Latest NCAA Antitrust Case

March 27, 2019 | Posted in : Billing Record / Entries, Class Action / MDL, Fee Allocation / Splitting, Fee Award Factors, Fee Request, Hourly Rates / Hourly Billing, Lodestar / Multiplier

A recent The Recorder story by Ross Todd, “Plaintiffs in Latest NCAA Antitrust Case Seek Nearly $45M in Fees,” reports that lawyers who recently won an injunction barring the National Collegiate Athletic Association from capping education-related benefits for certain college athletes are seeking nearly $45 million in attorney fees as a result of what they call “a historic and substantial judgment.”  Co-lead plaintiffs counsel at Winston & Strawn, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, and Pearson, Simon & Warshaw submitted court papers claiming plaintiff lawyers spent more than 51,000 hours on the case, which culminated in a 10-day bench trial last year.

The firms claim they put in the equivalent of about $29,944,894 in hourly billings, but they’re asking U.S. District Senior Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California to apply a multiplier of 1.5 to that amount, based on the novelty of the case, the risks involved and the quality of the defense counsel representing the NCAA and its member conferences.

“Plaintiffs’ fees are reasonable in light of the substantial defense resources (involving more than a dozen of the top law firms in the world) that they had to overcome, the difficulty and novelty of the many issues presented by this case, the enormous amount of factual discovery and expert work that was required to prosecute the claims, and the substantial economic value of the injunctive relief delivered to the Plaintiff Classes,” plaintiffs counsel wrote.

Wilken earlier this month found the NCAA in violation of federal antitrust law and issued an injunction barring the organization and its member schools and conferences from capping education-related benefits such as computers, science equipment, postgraduate scholarships and aid to study abroad for NCAA Division I women’s and men’s basketball players and football players at schools in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.  Plaintiffs submitted estimates from their economic expert which claim the injunction could be worth as much as $100,000 for individual class members over a four-year period—as much as $235 million annually in total.

According to a declaration filed alongside the fee motion, lawyers, paralegals and support staff at Winston & Strawn put in 41,152.05 hours on the case over about five years during the litigation, worth about $24,304,240 at the historical billing rates at the time of the work.  Jeffrey Kessler, co-executive chairman of the firm and co-chair of its antitrust/competition and sports law practices, saw his hourly rate go from $1,180 per hour when the case was initially filed in 2014, to $1,515 per hour for work done this year on the case, according to billing records submitted with the declaration.

Hagens Berman, according to a separate declaration filed, dedicated 5,575.20 hours of lawyer, paralegals and legal staff time to the matter, or $2,742,185 in firm time at historical rates.  Name partner Steve Berman put in 514.4 hours on the case at rates ranging from $950 to $1,025 per hour during the case, for a little more than $500,000 worth of total billings.  Attorneys with Pearson, Simon & Warshaw claim they spent 4,754.20 hours working on the applicable portion of the case, or about $2,754,725 worth of firm time.  The most recent rates for name partners Clifford Pearson, Bruce Simon, and Daniel Warshaw all recently hit $1,150 an hour, according to the firm’s declaration in support of the fee motion.

Elizabeth C. Pritzker of Oakland’s Pritzker Levine, whose firm represented two named plaintiffs who played women’s basketball for the University of California at Berkeley and served as additional plaintiffs counsel, filed a declaration claiming the firm logged 198 attorney hours in the injunctive relief portion of the case, or $143,745 in hourly billings.

In the fee motion, the plaintiffs team noted that, in a prior antitrust class action against the NCAA involving the names, likenesses and images of players, Wilken awarded injunctive relief class counsel about $40,794,246 in lodestar fees—roughly a third more than what’s being sought, timewise, in the current case.  The plaintiffs contend, however, that the more recent case has done more “to bridge the ‘great disparity’ between class members and defendants.”