Manhattan Civil Court Judge Frank P. Nervo issued an opinion on January 14, 2014 denying a law firm’s $126,000+ legal fee request for recovery of a $6,400 security deposit in a residential lease case. The “BigLaw” firm, Mayer Brown LLP, submitted the 14 page bill to the court for approval, which under the lease, is chargeable to the tenants. LPR posted a previous ruling from Judge Nervo, which required an attorney to repay his clients for overcharging them, plus interest.
In an eight (8) page opinion, Judge Nervo outlined examples of Mayer Brown’s “duplicated effort,” research of “the most basic and banal legal principles,” unreasonable charges for “oversight (of an associate attorney) by a more senior associate . . . and a partner,” and “duplicative and unnecessary fees” that the firm “unabashedly invoiced.” The examples cited by the judge included charging for:
- [L]egal matters about which counsel is presumed to know and tasks that, even were they necessary, could have been performed within minutes. The court cannot discern any need to research the topic of real estate licensing, as it has nothing to do with the legal issue in question.
- While legal research may be billed for under appropriate circumstances, merely reading a court rule is not research.
- [T]he basis upon which any attorney can actually occupy himself or herself over seven hours reviewing this nominal and uncomplicated material (reviewing documents related to the security deposit), in a simple case like this, defies imagination.
- This court cannot envision the inordinate circumstances under which any trial of this matter – had it gone to trial – would extend beyond sixty minutes . . . . Thus, the court can find no reasonable basis for this excessive allocation of (4-3/4) hours and the resultant fee.
- The Notice of Inquest is a one-sided Blumberg form requiring the preparer to add the caption of the matter, check off two boxes, and answering a series of eight rather basic questions to assure compliance with pretrial procedures, all of which were correctly noted as “Not Applicable” in this case. To demand compensation for two hours of professional or non-professional time over three days to accomplish this essentially ministerial task, asserting it required researching, drafting, conversing, conferring and discussing of some sort, the court finds unbelievable.
- [A]t least fifty-two-and-one-half (52.5) hours of time were singularly devoted to preparing a simple opposition to an order to show cause seeking vacatur of a default judgment. This is a stunningly inordinate amount of time for such a simple task, and there is no basis to award compensation based on this incredible claim.
Judge Nervo’s final words on the matter:
To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable. Under these circumstances, this court cannot and will not award any fees.
Once again, LPR applauds Judge Nervo for taking an unbiased look at the attorney billings and for having the courage and conviction to put those findings in writing and into the public domain. It is hard as a layperson to know what tasks attorneys should be billing for and how long tasks should take. So, legal consumers should read Judge Nervo’s opinion. It provides solid examples of inappropriate billing.
You’ve got options. The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field. Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.