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Category: Fee Award Data

Attorneys Seek $11.5M in Fees in Veteran Home COVID Case

November 9, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Chris Villani, “Attys Want $11M for $58M Vets’ Home COVID Outbreak Deal” reports that attorneys who led a class of veterans and their families to a nearly $58 million settlement with the state of Massachusetts following a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a veterans' home asked a judge to approve their $11.5 million fee request.  Lawyers from the western Massachusetts firm of Lesser Newman Aleo & Nasser LLP told U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni that their fee request, which is unopposed by the commonwealth, is on the low end among similar settlements in the First Circuit.

The $11,512,500 request is just under 20% of the $57,912,500 legislative appropriation that covers veterans who became ill or died of COVID-19 at Holyoke Soldiers' Home between March 1, 2020, and June 23, 2020.  None of the 164 members of the settlement class have objected to the fee request, the lawyers said.  "Bringing a lawsuit of this nature is a daunting task," the memorandum states.  "It should be rewarded with a full attorney fee award, particularly in this case, where the requested fee is on the low end of the range of attorney fee awards recoveries in common fund class actions in the First Circuit and a full attorney fee award will not decrease the amounts to be received by the class members."

The settlement for the class members and the fee award were also negotiated separately in this case, the attorneys said, with just over $46 million set aside for the individual victims and their families.  Their awards, therefore, would not be reduced by the fee request, according to the memorandum.  The class lawyers also argued that awarding a lower fee could provide a disincentive for the commonwealth to settle future similar cases or take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place.  The fee award would also encourage lawyers to tackle tough cases when people are harmed by state action, the attorneys argued.

"In taking this case on, counsel was aware that the likelihood of prevailing at trial and actually recovering a judgment was, at best, difficult, [and] numerous other attorneys had declined to represent the veterans who had died of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home," the document states.  "And, if the case went to trial, the firm would end up spending several million dollars' worth of billable hours, as well as incurring a minimum of $500,000 in expert fees."

AT&T Attorneys Seek $3.5M in Fees in $14M Settlement

August 17, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Kelly Lienhard, “AT&T ‘Bait-and-Switch’ Customer Attys Want $3.5M in Fees reports that attorneys who secured a $14 million settlement for a group of AT&T customers claiming they were charged an improper fee asked a California federal court for a $3.5 million cut of the award to cover their legal fees, as well as additional funds to cover litigation expenses.  The requested fee is 25% of the full settlement amount, which aligns with the Ninth Circuit's benchmark for attorney fees, according to the attorneys' motion, and is warranted based on the risk taken and time spent on the case.

"[The fee] is well justified under the circumstances of this case, including in light of the significant risk settlement class counsel assumed in taking this case on and vigorously litigating it for years notwithstanding the possibility that the case could ultimately be derailed on arbitration or any number of other grounds," the counsel stated.  AT&T agreed to the $14 million settlement to avoid litigation after its customers sued the telecom company over claims that the company used bait-and-switch tactics by applying an "administrative fee" to customers' accounts.

The customers' counsel is asking for 25% of the settlement amount to cover their fees and almost $75,000 for litigation expenses.  According to the attorneys, over 4,674 hours were devoted to the case, with more work still ahead to secure the finalized settlement.  The work was done with no guarantee that the lawyers would see any compensation, with additional challenges that come with going up against a large, well-funded company, according to the attorneys.

The customers' counsel added that a lodestar-multiplier cross-check found that the requested $3.5 million fee represents a little less than 128% percent of the $2,754,739 in attorney fees accumulated so far in the case, which is at the lower end of the range typically awarded, the attorneys said.

NALFA Releases 2021 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report

July 19, 2022

Every year, NALFA conducts an hourly rate survey of civil litigation in the U.S.   Today, NALFA released the results from its 2021 hourly rate survey.  The survey results, published in The 2021 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report, shows billing rate data on the very factors that correlate directly to hourly rates in litigation:

City / Geography
Years of Litigation Experience / Seniority
Position / Title
Practice Area / Complexity of Case
Law Firm / Law Office Size

This empirical survey and report provides micro and macro data of current hourly rate ranges for both defense and plaintiffs’ litigators, at various experience levels, from large law firms to solo shops, in regular and complex litigation, and in the nation’s largest markets.  This data-intensive survey contains hundreds of data sets and thousands of data points covering all relevant billing rate categories and variables.  This is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive survey or study on hourly billing rates in litigation.

This is the second year NALFA has conducted this survey on billing rates.  The 2021 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report contains new cities, additional categories, and more accurate variables.  These updated features allow us to capture new and more precise billing rate data.  Through our propriety email database, NALFA surveyed thousands of litigators from across the U.S.  Over 8,400 qualified litigators fully participated in this hourly rate survey.  This data-rich survey was designed to aid litigators in proving their lodestar rates in court and comparing their rates to their litigation peers.

The 2021 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report is now available for purchase.  For more on this survey, email NALFA Executive Director Terry Jesse at terry@thenalfa.org or call us at (312) 907-7275.

Seventh Circuit Tosses $11M Attorney Fee Award

May 20, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Hailey Konnath, “Seventh Circ. Throws Out $11M Fee Award For Bernstein Litowitz” reports that the Seventh Circuit vacated an $11 million fee award for Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP's work on a $45 million settlement between waste disposal company Stericycle and its shareholders, finding that the district court "did not give sufficient weight" to points raised in a class member's objection.  The three-judge panel said the Illinois federal court overseeing the case should've more seriously considered evidence of related fee agreements, all the work that Bernstein Litowitz inherited from earlier litigation against Stericycle and the early stage at which the settlement was reached.

"The cumulative effect of these issues leads us to conclude that the district court's analysis did not sufficiently 'reflect the market-based approach for determining fee awards that is required by our precedent,'" the Seventh Circuit said.  The panel added, "We vacate the fee award and remand for a fresh determination more in line with what an ex ante agreement would have produced."

Objector Mark Petri appealed a 25% cut that Bernstein Litowitz got from representing investors claiming that Stericycle falsely inflated its financial results through fraudulent pricing.  In particular, Petri argued that the attorney fees were potentially inflated by a pay-to-play scheme and the case never proceeded past the motion-to-dismiss stage.

In the underlying case, lead plaintiffs Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System had pointed to briefing in a study conducted by Nera Economic Consulting.  According to that study, for securities class action cases that settled between 2014 and 2018 in amounts ranging from $25 million to $100 million, the median attorney fee award was 25%, like the share awarded to Bernstein Litowitz.

Bernstein Litowitz asked the court to approve its $11 million fee request in June 2019, and the court gave its blessing in May 2020.  But the Seventh Circuit said that the district court's analysis was incomplete.  Notably, the court didn't address a 2016 retention agreement between the firm and the Mississippi attorney general, under which Bernstein Litowitz was authorized to represent the Mississippi fund and seek a percentage of the recovery achieved for the class as compensation.  That percentage, however, was supposed to be limited to the percentage corresponding to the fund's estimated individual recovery, the panel said.

At oral argument, Bernstein Litowitz had said that the sliding scale structure outlined in that agreement only applies to the amount recovered by the fund itself, not to the total amount recovered by the class.  The Seventh Circuit said that interpretation is "improbable, arbitrary, unreasonable and not consistent with a class representative's fiduciary duty to class members."

Additionally, the district court's assessment of the risk of non-payment also didn't give sufficient weight to prior litigation involving Stericycle, litigation that substantially reduced the risk of non-payment, the panel said.  The court had found that the risk of non-payment was "substantial," but that earlier litigation demonstrating Stericycle's billing practices and other settlements signaled that class counsel was not actually taking on much risk, the Seventh Circuit said.

And on top of that, the court didn't properly consider just how early on in the litigation the case was settled, according to the decision.  At the very least, the district court should've considered whether the preliminary stage of the litigation warranted a reduction in the requested fee, it said.  The Seventh Circuit also remarked that it wasn't convinced the settlement was a good outcome for the class, but that neither Petri nor anyone else was challenging that.

Class Counsel Defend Fee Request in Subaru Windshield

August 13, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Jeannie O’Sullivan, “Subaru Windshield Class Counsel Defend $515K Fee Bid”, reports that Glancy Prongay & Murray LLP and Greenstone Law PC sought to justify their $515,000 counsel fee request for representing a class of Subaru drivers plagued by crack-prone windshields, telling a New Jersey federal court that all they're asking for is the going rate for attorneys in the region of their caliber.  In a brief, the firms made their case for wanting to charge $850 for senior partners down to $225 for paralegals, pointing to other cases in which courts gave the green light for the same rates.  U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb had questioned the fee ask in June when she gave her final approval to a deal that provides extended warranties and a reimbursement program.

"Class Counsel's hourly rates have been approved by courts in this district and are within the range of rates approved by the courts in this district for attorneys of comparable experience and skill," the firms told Judge Bumb in their brief.  The firms pointed to counsel fee rates approved in securities class actions such as Li et al. v. Aeterna Zentaris Inc. et al. in June and Sun v. Han et al. in March 2018, both in New Jersey federal court.

The firms emphasized that, because they agreed to cap the fees at $515,000, the overall lodestar was reduced by 40% to $464,520.65.  As result, when divided by the 1,219 hours of work performed, the blended hourly rate turns out to be $381, according to the brief.  The number of hours is likewise justifiable, according to the firms.  Judge Bumb had wondered about the amount of time class counsel actually spent on the Subaru case, given that the settlement deal was modeled on Subaru's pre-litigation offer to extend the warranties.

Although modeled on a prior market action, the firms said, "it took skill and tenacity to vet the appropriateness of that action and meaningfully further extend the duration of the relief from five years to eight years" for a 60% increase.  Class counsel also improved the relief by implementing safeguards in the deal to ensure consumers with valid claims weren't rejected, according to the brief.  The firms went to say that the total hours billed, which spanned 3.5 years, was also reasonable.

The brief detailed the coordination and effort involved in the investigation, the drafting of three complaints spanning two districts, discovery, general case management, motion practice and mediation.  The task also involved communicating with more than 100 class members, according to the brief.  The hours spent were comparable to those approved in automobile defect class settlement deals involving Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, the brief said.

Class counsel is likewise entitled to its $50,479.35 request to cover costs and expenses, the firms said, noting that courts have approved things like "photocopying expenses, telephone and facsimile charges, postage, messenger and express mail charges, witness fees, filing fees, expert costs, computer-assisted research," among others.  The firms said $28,331.08 of that figure is reimbursement for expert expenses.