• March 29, 2017

It has been a while since Minnesota Litigator has lamented what it calls “the Minnesota hair-cut” — that is when, in our view, Minnesota courts go wild with the clipper on attorney fee petitions. The hiatus is not because this trend has abated. It just gets boring to highlight every time lawyers have their fees slashed by judges.

So it was refreshing to see U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim (D. Minn.) trim the trim that U.S. Mag. Judge Leo R. Brisbois gave to Plaintiff’s counsel recently.

At issue in the case was whether Plaintiff’s counsel, the Sapientia law group, should be able to recover attorneys’ fees for “intra-firm conferences.” Judge Brisbois thought not. Judge Tunheim sustained Plaintiff’s objection to Judge Brisbois’ Report and Recommendation (“R&R”).

The challenge courts face in determining fee petitions is obvious. Lawyers who will be paid through fee petitions have an obvious incentive to inflate their billable hours and it is extremely difficult for anyone to determine when petitioning lawyers succumb to that temptation.

So why not shave off some percent to counteract this “inflationary risk”?

The answer, as we have said before, is (a) this penalizes honest lawyers, (b) this simply causes dishonest lawyers to inflate their inflation.

Moreover, Plaintiff’s counsel billed $1,080 for intra-office conferences. We are not talking about a crazy sum here.

[Plaintiff’s] attorney’s fees for periodic legal team meetings, conferences, and strategy sessions were legitimate and reasonable aspects of litigation preparation and were not unreasonable or duplicative. The Court notes the challenging nature of DPPA cases and the corresponding need for intra-firm conferences to strategize and properly perform legal services.

While intra-office conferences might start with a few minutes of kibbitzing over news or sports, few would deny that they are critical to efficient multi-person lawyering. Imposing a rule that one cannot recover legal fees for that time, again, simply rewards dishonest lawyers who inflate other time reports to cover meeting time and/or penalizes honest lawyers doing honest work.

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