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Category: Fee Reduction

Apple Urges Judge to Cut Fees in iPhone Class Settlement

August 26, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, “Apple Urges Judge To Trim IPhone Class Atty Fees” reports that Apple Inc. has asked a New York federal judge to lower a $6.6 million fee request from attorneys who helped secure a $20 million class settlement for iPhone users over device updates, insisting that there is a lack of documentation supporting the price tag.  While attorneys from Pomerantz LLP and Bronstein Gewirtz & Grossman LLC have asked for one-third of the payout for their services, Apple wants the award shaved by $666,000 to 30% of the total settlement, or exactly $6 million. The reduction, Apple argued in a brief, would provide an additional $600,000 to the class and give each member a payment of $68.56, up from $62.94 at the current number of claims.

Apple also took aim at the plaintiff's counsel's billable hours, calling their submission "insufficient."  According to Apple's memorandum, the class's counsel failed to submit any documentation that "substantiates" the over 10,000 hours they billed for the suit that lasted more than six years.  "Class Counsel merely provide a chart listing the names of billers, their requested hourly rate, and an aggregate number of hours each worked, with no elucidation as to whom did what," the motion said.

In an Aug. 12 motion for attorney fees, the plaintiff's attorneys said the fee is warranted given the number of hours they spent working on the suit and the expenses they incurred in the process – as well as the favorable outcome they achieved.  "From the outset, class counsel understood they were embarking on a complex, expensive, and likely lengthy litigation with no guarantee of ever being compensated for the substantial investment of time and money the case would require," the attorneys wrote.

Apple also asked the court to reduce the requested $2.8 million in litigation expenses and service awards of $15,000 for each named plaintiff.  Apple contends that a reduction of the amount of the plaintiff's service award is warranted because the plaintiffs would receive an award one hundred times greater than the maximum recovery afforded to class members.  Apple also took issue with the reported costs for meals, taxis and online research, which they said were not recoverable.

Court Cuts Attorney Fees in $180M First Energy Class Settlement

August 23, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Hannah Albarazi, “FirstEnergy Investors Get $180M OK’d, But Atty Fees Cut” reports that an Ohio federal judge gave final approval to FirstEnergy Corp.'s $180 million settlement with investors who brought derivative suits over a bribery scandal embroiling the electric utility company and the state legislature, while reducing the attorney fees in the case by more than $12 million.  U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley lowered the plaintiffs' attorney fees from the roughly $48.6 million they requested to $36 million and granted final approval to the $180 million settlement, ending shareholder derivative actions over the so-called HB6 scandal and clearing the path for a slate of corporate governance reforms to begin.

The granted attorney fees represent 20% of the settlement pot, as opposed to the 27% that plaintiffs' counsel requested.  The judge said he extensively deliberated about the factors that went into the fee award and said the figure he arrived at "appropriately accounts for counsel's labor, risks and results" in the case.  Among other things, he noted a lack of depositions that "would have demanded more intensive labor and, thus, greater risks under the contingent fee arrangement" and a "recognition of the advantages to 'coattailing' a major government investigation."

"If FirstEnergy cannot be made perfectly whole in monetary terms, then the next-best outcome is to repair its reputation with prompt, forward-looking reforms designed to prevent a recurrence of the alleged conduct.  The proposed settlement meets that mark," Judge Marbley further wrote in his order.  He noted that this settlement captures about 82% of the available insurance coverage, which is the main source of recoverable assets.

The lawsuits consolidated in the Southern District of Ohio revolved around a scheme by FirstEnergy to bribe then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder in order to receive a $1.3 billion bailout of its nuclear power plants.  The company admitted in July 2021 to paying the bribe and paid a $230 million penalty to escape prosecution.

U.S. District Judge John Adams, who is overseeing the case in the Northern District of Ohio, has spoken out against the settlement in the Southern District of Ohio, accusing the parties of forum shopping in order to find a court more favorable to the proposal than his.  Judge Adams has refused to dismiss the case before him and has called for the appointment of new lawyers to oversee that case.

But a special litigation committee composed of independent directors of FirstEnergy objected to the attorney fees, arguing that the plaintiffs weren't alone in working to improve the company. The committee told the court that it helped institute some of the corporate reforms that shareholders' attorneys were trying to take credit for as part of the settlement.

Plaintiffs' counsel have told the court that the settlement — which is funded by the company's insurers — is "among the largest derivative recoveries ever achieved" in the U.S. and is "three times greater than any prior derivative recovery in the history of the Sixth Circuit."

In his order, Judge Marbley didn't get distracted by the record-breaking settlement amount.  "Still, the monetary component of the settlement deserves some scrutiny," he wrote.  "While the recovery is substantial, so too were the harms resulting from the alleged bribery scandal."

Judge Cuts $4.9M Fee Request in ICloud Storage Action

August 5, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Kelly Lienhard, “Judge Slashes Attys’ $4.9M Fee Bid in ICloud Storage Suit” reports that Apple will settle for $14.8 million over claims that it misled users on how iCloud services stored data after receiving final approval from a California judge, but only has to pay the class counsel standard fees despite requests from the attorneys for a higher award.

While the Northern California District Court elected to grant the full monetary amount requested by a class of iCloud subscribers, it reduced the fees awarded to Roy A. Katriel of the Katriel Law Firm PC and Azra Mehdi of the Mehdi Firm PC from $4.9 million to $3.7 million based on findings that the case was not exceptional enough to warrant giving the attorneys more than the standard payout.

"Although class counsel — who are two sole practitioners — skillfully litigated the case, it was not a sufficiently exceptional case to warrant more than the benchmark in attorney's fees," U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler wrote in Thursday's court order.

Katriel and Mehdi had requested 33% of the settlement amount, totaling $4.9 million, based on claims that they undertook significant risks, put in a substantial amount of work and succeeded in winning excellent results for the represented consumers.

However, Apple argued that the established fee of 25%, or $3.7 million in this case, was more appropriate.

The district court agreed with the tech giant, stating that class counsel failed to show that the case was complex or novel enough to warrant departure from the typical 25% counsel award.

Katriel and Mehdi alleged that the case was "exceptionally" complex, pointing to more than four years of work including 10 depositions, seven adversarial motions and thousands of pages of complex discovery from Apple. The lawyers added the results from their work were extraordinary, as all class members are to be paid without needing to submit a claim form.

They also pointed out that the settlement won represents more than 40% of the damages calculated by an economic expert.

Judge Beeler, however, said that the case was not especially complex or novel because, in the end, only one straightforward claim for a breach of contract survived. Beeler added that the result achieved by the attorneys were not anything special, as each class member will end up receiving less than a dollar.

The attorneys' strongest argument, according to the district court, is the $400,000 spent on working the case, which points to an increased risk. However, Beeler said that it alone is not enough to justify departing from the typical attorney fee.

Apple was originally sued in 2019 over claims that it stored customer data on third-party facilities rather than its own iCloud infrastructure, despite telling iCloud subscribers that their data would be stored on Apple's systems.

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.

Should Judges Police The Gender Hourly Rate Disparity?

June 1, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Andrew Stricker, “Should Judges Police The Legal Industry Pay Gap?” reports that as the pay gap between male and female attorneys persists despite industry pledges to do better, the power of judges to potentially bridge the divide is coming into sharper focus.  Following an unusual decision by a federal magistrate, some members of the Philadelphia bar have endorsed the idea that other judges should follow suit and help police gender pay inequities, or at least call them out from the bench.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice recently issued the order critiquing elements of a notable employment firm's request and awards that put attorney "status" over performance.  "I don't think it's always my role, but in this instance, I felt I had to set the rates based on the performance of the attorneys who really tried the case, and not a rate that was maybe based more on age or seniority," Judge Rice told Law360 Pulse.

In April, Judge Rice was overseeing the last stage of an age discrimination case brought by Alison Ray, a former sales director at AT&T Mobility Services who was let go at age 49 after more than two decades at the company.  Following a five-day trial, Ray last year secured a $2.3 million award after a jury determined that a company restructuring plan had targeted older employees as "surplus."

In February, lawyers at the firm representing Ray, Console Mattiacci Law LLC, asked for $847,945 in "shifted" fees from AT&T.  That lodestar calculation, based on a 40% contingency agreement, was justified by the complexity of the plaintiff's case, Ray's counsel argued, as well as a "complete and total victory" on her claims that AT&T had willfully violated federal age discrimination law.  The fee petition included nearly 1,570 hours from partners Susan Saint-Antoine and Laura C. Mattiacci, a highly experienced lead trial counsel, and associate Daniel S. Orlow. Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci, who have practiced since 1989 and 2002, respectively, both listed their "usual and customary" rate of $730 an hour. Orlow, who has practiced since 2011, was at $320 an hour.

The petition also included 37 hours contributed by firm principal Stephen G. Console. Console, a nationally recognized employment law expert, charged $900 an hour for consulting on strategy decisions and filings, as well as settlement demands and other key elements of the case.  In an order granting a handful of reductions totaling about $83,000, Judge Rice said Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci should be entitled to the same per-hour rate as Console, who has been practicing for three decades.

"Historically, women in law earn less than their male counterparts, a discrepancy that may reflect hidden bias," he said, citing a 2020 report that found widening pay discrepancies at large law firms.  Referring to a fee schedule used widely in the Third Circuit to determine market rates for Philadelphia-area lawyers, Judge Rice said Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci should be in line for a "premium" over those numbers that put them in line with Console.  Even if the fee schedule "serves as a useful guide on setting hourly rates, its reference to experience should not serve as a cap that precludes exceptionally talented trial lawyers from receiving fair compensation simply because of age or gender," Judge Rice said.

The legal industry pay gap, and its role in women reaching firm leadership and a lack of diversity in many areas of the profession, has been under intense scrutiny for years, but without much in the way of real progress.  In the 2020 report cited by Judge Rice, legal recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa found that partner compensation soared between 2010 and 2018.  But in that same period, the pay disparity between male and female equity partners widened significantly, from 24% to 35%.

Nancy Ezold, a veteran Philadelphia employment lawyer, said it was "absolutely" appropriate for Judge Rice to consider rate disparities for lawyers in his court, even though AT&T counsel hadn't raised the issue in its fee-award opposition.  "I don't know of anything in the law that says you have to consider what a law firm pays people," Ezold said.  "But Judge Rice looks at the bigger picture and asks, 'Am I going to do something to perpetuate an inequality and authorize a fee for a male partner over two female partners who really handled this case?'"

Ezold, who once sued her own former law firm in the late 1980s for denying her a partnership based on her gender, argued that fee petitions often provide a substantive overview of who did what work over the history of a litigation.  Depending on the nature of the case, they can also be an opportunity for judges to compare requested rates across different firms and legal teams comprising different gender and experience makeups.

"Here the judge couldn't overlook a difference between male and female in this case because it related directly to the responsibility to decide what would be allowed for each of these attorneys," Ezold said.  "Judges speak out on a lot of things, and I don't see why this should be any different."  Judge Rice served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before being appointed as a federal magistrate in 2005.  He retired in April, just after issuing the Ray opinion.

In an interview with Law360 Pulse, Judge Rice said the timing was coincidental, noting that the issue of male-female pay disparities had never before been "so squarely presented" to him in a fee petition.  "From the [fee] affidavits I see, and from all I know about law firm pay structures, I do think the pay gap is huge, and there are just so many variables out there that have cut against giving women equal pay," such as lack of trial experience and other opportunities to advance, he said.

"When I see lawyers perform in an exemplary fashion, it's appropriate they be paid at higher rates commensurate with their skills, not just based on the years they've practiced," Judge Rice added.  Alice Ballard, another veteran Philadelphia employment lawyer who provided a fee affidavit in the Ray case, said Judge Rice's prior time as a trial lawyer was evident in the opinion, including in his positive assessment of the hours Console Mattiacci dedicated to mock trial runs and other "essential" advocacy preparation.

Judge Rice "really understands what it means to prepare for a trial like this, and everyone on my beat really appreciates that," she said.  But Ballard took issue with Judge Rice's ultimate reliance on what she described as an outdated fee schedule, rates that don't well reflect the special skills of trial work, Mattiacci's successful track record or the contingency fee model.

She also cautioned against reading the opinion as a critique of the hourly rate request for Console, whom she called a "lion" of the city's employment bar.  Regarding his reference to the legal industry's gender pay disparities,"it's great that he took the opportunity to bring it up, but I just don't think it has much to do with this specific case," Ballard said.