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Category: Hourly Rates

Compare & Prove Hourly Rates with NALFA Survey

July 20, 2021

Every year, NALFA conducts an hourly rate survey of civil litigation in the U.S.  NALFA has released the results from its 2020 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey.  The survey results, published in The 2020 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report, shows hourly rate data on the very factors that correlate to hourly rates in litigation:

  • Geography / Location / Jurisdiction
  • Years of Litigation Experience / Seniority
  • Practice Area / Complexity of Case
  • Law Firm / Law Office Size

This empirical survey and report provides macro and micro data of current hourly rate ranges for both defense and plaintiffs’ litigators, at various litigation experience levels, from large law firms to solo shops, in routine and complex litigation, and in the nation’s largest legal markets and beyond.  This is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive survey or study on hourly rates.  This data-intensive survey contains hundreds of data sets covering all the relevant hourly rate variables.  The survey was designed to aid litigators in comparing rates within a litigation peer group and proving rates in court and ADR.

The 2020 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report is divided into two parts, a free public portion and a private portion.  The public portion contains only the survey totals.  The data-rich private portion has the complete survey results including the raw data responses with percentages.  The private portion is free to members of our network (i.e. members, faculty, and fellows) and the 2020 litigation survey respondents.  The private portion is available for purchase to others.     

This 2020 Litigation Hourly Rate Survey & Report is now available for purchase.  For more information on this, email NALFA Executive Director, Terry Jesse at terry@thenalfa.org or call us at (312) 907-7275.

Judge Slams Hourly Rates in Wage Action

July 15, 2021

A recent Bloomberg Law story by Maya Earls, “Judge Slams Hourly Rates, Awards $1 Attorneys’ Fee in Wage Suit,” reports that a federal judge in Arkansas rejected a request for more than $30,000 in attorneys’ fees in an overtime pay dispute and awarded Sanford Law Firm $1 instead, saying the higher amount isn’t fair, proper, or just under the circumstances.  Sanford Law Firm represented a plaintiff in a Fair Labor Standards Act collective action filed against Eden Isle Corp.  The plaintiff accepted a $4,000 outstanding offer of judgment and later sought about $30,681 in lawyers’ fees and $1,225 in costs.

Sanford’s hourly rates “appear to be entirely arbitrary and unreliable,” according to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.  The firm requested between $240 and $383 an hour for attorneys, but other cases litigated by the firm during the same time period had lower hourly rates, the court said.  The more reasonable hourly rates are between $125 and $250 an hour, according to the ruling.

This case involved 13 timekeepers, ten of whom were lawyers.  Eden Isle noted that a large amount of time attributed to the lead lawyer was spent on in-house conferences and communication.  This is too much oversight for a lawyer who has been practicing for 11 years and focused her practice on employment law, the court said.  “As has been pointed out time and again, the random involvement of all of the lawyers and the constant oversight by the senior attorney are inefficient, unnecessary, and unreasonable,” wrote Judge Billy Roy Wilson.

Sanford sought more than $3,600 for work on a motion for summary judgment, but the motion was granted for Eden Isle before the plaintiff accepted the outstanding offer of judgment.  Wilson criticized the “frivolous request,” writing that this isn’t the first time the firm sought reimbursement for unsuccessful issues.

“Although plaintiff was, technically, the prevailing party, his ‘success’ was paltry, at best,” wrote Wilson.  The court cited other billing issues, such as duplicative billing and excessive time, that resulted in a petition that was “excessive and unreliable.”  Wilson reduced the costs from $1,241 to $416 because the $825 cost for a private process server isn’t recoverable.  The plaintiff will challenge the judge’s findings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, according to a notice filed.

Judge Wary of Hourly Rates in Subaru Windshield Class Settlement

June 11, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Jeannie O’Sullivan, “NJ Judge OKs Subaru Windshield Deal, Wary On Counsel Fee,” reports that a New Jersey federal judge gave final approval to a settlement that would give a class of Subaru drivers extended warranties and a reimbursement program to resolve claims over crack-prone windshields, but said class counsel still needs to justify its $515,000 fee request.

During a hearing held via Zoom, U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb said that the settlement was fair, reasonable and adequate.  The deal will offer what the judge said was "very generous" relief to the current and former owners and lessees of about 231,000 Subaru Outback and Legacy vehicles from model years 2015 and 2016.  "It puts them in a very good position," Judge Bumb said of the settlement, agreeing to certify the class and approve the deal.

The resolution of the claims — in which Subaru denies liability — was the result of arm's length negotiations between counsel, Judge Bumb said, calling it "impressive" that the settlement notices reached 96% of the proposed class.  The deal drew only five objections, most of which she said were "the product of confusion."

Judge Bumb also directed class counsel Glancy Prongay & Murray LLP and Greenstone Law PC to provide supplemental briefing to bolster their request for attorney fees and expenses. In their April motion, the firms specified hourly rates ranging between $800 and $850 and said they spent more than 1,200 hours on the case.

The firms' motion characterized their fee request as small relative to the deal's overall value, significantly less than the firms' actual lodestar and expenses. But Judge Bumb said Friday that without more information, she was "somewhat handicapped in conducting an analysis" as to the reasonableness of the rate as well as the time spent on the case.

The judge pointed to a New Jersey federal court decision from August 2019, in which Chief U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, presiding over a case filed by drivers of Chrysler vehicles with allegedly defective automatic transmissions, noted that a $725-an-hour rate fell "on the outer end of reasonableness for this geographic area."

Judge Bumb also wondered about the amount of time class counsel actually spent on the Subaru case, given that the settlement deal was modeled on Subaru's prelitigation offer to extend the warranties.

Class attorney Mark S. Greenstone told the court that the total fee requested effectively reduces their hourly rate to about $600. He pointed out that class counsel's tasks included filing an amended complaint, adding three new plaintiffs to the litigation, enlisting experts to analyze the windshields at issue, serving formal discovery and mediating the case over a year after it was filed.

In their motion for attorney fees, the firms described the negotiations as "intense, adversarial, and complex." They noted that it wasn't a common fund settlement, so the fee wouldn't cut into the relief for the class.

The windshields at issue either cracked for no reason at all or under very slight impact, according to the complaint. The replacement windows provided by Subaru were similarly defective, leading to multiple replacements in some cases, the complaint said.

The drivers alleged that Subaru dealers denied warranty claims and that Subaru failed to issue a recall, despite knowing about the windshield defect from preproduction testing, customer complaints, warranty data and dealership repair orders.

The complaint was first filed in California federal court in June 2017, and a settlement was reached after a two-day mediation held in December 2018 and January 2019, according to court records. Under the terms of the deal, the case was to be refiled in New Jersey, where Subaru of America Inc. is headquartered.

"Had plaintiffs and prospective class members known about the windshield defect, they would not have purchased the class vehicles or would have paid less for them," read the New Jersey complaint, which was filed in April 2019.

Prior to the litigation, Subaru extended the warranty on the original factory-installed windshields on certain vehicles from three years/36,000 miles to five years/unlimited miles. The class settlement, which the court preliminarily approved in October, further extends the warranty to cover eight years/unlimited miles and includes a reimbursement program for class members who paid out-of-pocket for replacement windshields.

Making a case for the deal during the hearing on Friday, Greenstone said unlimited mileage isn't a common term for car warranties, noting that the windshield replacements on average cost more than $500.

"So, in terms of the substantive relief, it is really hard to imagine a better and more appropriate remedy even if this case had gone to trial," Greenstone told the court.

The deal also includes a class representative award of $5,000 for each of the four named plaintiffs. Judge Bumb said during the hearing that she was not questioning the class representative awards.

DOJ Filings Reveal Four-Figure Hourly Rates in FARA Matters

June 3, 2021

A recent NLJ story by Mike Scarcella, “New Covington Filings at DOJ Offer Fresh Peek at Fees and Rates” reports that Covington & Burling reported receiving more than $8 million in legal fees since October for legal services and other advocacy for the Moroccan state-owned phosphate rock miner OCP S.A., a longtime client, according to new filings submitted to the U.S. Justice Department.  Covington’s routine supplemental disclosure came as part of the law firm’s advocacy for OCP under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires law firms, public relations consultants and lobbyists to register certain work for foreign government clients.

Registrants are required to file supplemental statements every six months that describe activity performed for the foreign principal and benefits derived from it, including the receipt of income.  The provision of in-court legal services broadly is not required to be registered under the foreign-agent law, which has seen newfound attention in recent years amid the ramped-up scrutiny of foreign influence in the U.S.  The Justice Department last year said in new guidance it narrowly views what it called “normal legal representation.”  Filings made under the foreign-agent law can provide a glimpse at rates and fees and other matters that law firms typically don’t widely advertise.

Many major U.S. firms have registered work under the foreign-agent law over the years.  Other Covington clients whose engagements were reported to the Justice Department have included the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the United States; the government of Spain; New Zealand; and the Corporación Colombia Internacional.  The firm keeps close track on policy and enforcement changes in the foreign-agent unit at the DOJ and regularly issues client advisories.

Covington said in filings last year that it would perform policy work for OCP “including development of legislative and executive department messaging and communication strategies.”  The firm said it would also provide “assistance to OCP’s other advisors in developing communications and policy strategies related to OCP’s role in the U.S. fertilizer sector and the potential impact of tariffs on the U.S. agricultural community.”

The new supplemental disclosure showed fees related to that policy work, in addition to legal services that do not require foreign-agent registration.  Covington represents OCP in a proceeding at the International Trade Commission.  The overall amount disclosed was $8.09 million.

The FARA-registered work has included the firm’s assistance in what it described as “a public relations campaign regarding countervailing duty investigations by the U.S. government into phosphate fertilizer imports.” Components of that campaign include development of internal talking points at OCP; development of an engagement strategy with the customers of OCP; and “consulting on design and content of the www.StandwithUSFarmers.com website.”

Covington’s contract with OCP, publicly filed in October, showed the hourly rate for Bruce Wilson, a senior corporate and M&A lawyer, was $1,350.  The firm said then that junior associates were billing at $560 and the senior partners at $2,250.  Major firms tend to review and adjust rates at the start of the year.

A recently disclosed client contract between Covington and a public university in Oregon showed a range from $595 hourly for junior associates—a 6% uptick over the prior year—to $2,295 for senior partners, a 2% increase over 2020.  The contract, for a workplace culture investigation, showed former Obama-era U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was billing at $2,295 and Nancy Kestenbaum, co-chair of the firm’s white-collar practice, was billing $1,445 hourly.

Block Billing Reduces Fee Award in Personal Injury Case

May 14, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Mike Curley, “After ‘Block Billing’ and ‘Paper Dump,’, Attys Net Only $786K” reports that an Arizona federal judge has awarded $786,472 to attorneys representing a man who suffered additional injuries after a fall when his insurer delayed approving surgery, down from the requested $1.04 million as a result of "block billing," a "paper dump" and other failures in their request for fees.  U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich also denied Greg Jarman's request for $74,000 in expenses from American Family Insurance Co. in its entirety, saying he failed to itemize the costs and the court will not "do the hard work for him" in separating out items like clothes for one attorney and a hotel room for another.

Jarman's request for fees comes after a jury in September awarded him $4.5 million over delays in care for injuries stemming from an on-the-job fall in 2015.  The court later reduced the verdict to $2.8 million.  Jarman, who had worked at electrical company Efficient Electric Inc. for more than 10 years before his injury, experienced a severe fall on July 25, 2015, according to court documents, and a couple of weeks later he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a shoulder sprain and put on limited activity.  Jarman's neurologist on Oct. 6 of that year recommended cervical decompression surgery, after his orthopedic surgeon called his case "urgent."

American Family wanted its own doctor, Dr. John Beghin, to examine Jarman before approving the surgery, and he agreed on Nov. 5, 2015, that surgery was necessary.  The surgery was performed five days later, and Jarman said the delay caused cognitive injuries.  In the order, Judge Brnovich reduced the total fee for several reasons, starting with Jarman's failure to comply with court rules requiring his counsel to confer with American Family's on the fees before submitting his request.

While the judge did not accept American Family's argument that Jarman isn't entitled to fees at all, she did reduce them still further, saying that there is a particularly egregious case of block billing in this case, with one of the attorneys attributing hundreds of hours of work to single line items, leaving the court unable to determine how much time was spent on specific tasks.

The request also does not contain an affidavit as to the tasks that support staff at the firms took on during the case, so the court is unable to determine if the rates for their work are reasonable, the judge wrote, adding some entries from support staff are clerical in nature.  Jarman also failed to produce evidence that his attorneys' fee rates are reasonable, the judge wrote, further warranting a reduction to the fee.  The attorney fees request also includes entry for work done relating only to dismissed defendants, the judge added