Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Welch v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (9th Cir. - March 6, 2007)

Who here hasn't filed a motion for attorney's fees? Pretty much everyone has. So this case is helpful, if only to provide some quick reminders about various pitfalls that counsel and/or judges can hopefully avoid:

(1) For Judges: Don't cut hourly rates merely because you think they're excessive. You've got to have some evidence for what you've done. Judge Anderson thought that the $400/hour rate in an ERISA case was way too high and cut it to $250/hour. But Judge Fisher reverses. There's gotta be evidence to support reducing the hourly rate, especially when (as here) the plaintiff submitted evidence that $400/hour is normal. Usually we give district judges discretion, and value their experience and common sense. But apparently not here; or, at a minimum, when there's no actual evidence to support their view.

(2) For Lawyers: (a) As an (obviously) correlary of (1), introduce evidence. Declarations. Stuff like that. Both to support your claimed rates and to support a reduction. (b) Don't block bill. Judge Fisher affirms the 20% across-the-board fee reduction because counsel block-billed, and this case provides solid precedent for courts to do so in the future. Or at least don't block bill when you're asking for court-ordered fee awards. (c) Don't bill in 15-minute increments. Judge Fisher affirms another 20% reduction on this ground. (d) Don't cut-and-paste and pretend like it's all new stuff when you bill it out. Which, reading between the lines, seems like what transpired here with respect to the fees-on-fees stuff. It makes you look bad.

Important lessons all around.