Sixth, the court observed a significant discrepancy between the lawyers' respective affidavits and the actual amount of time worked as evidenced by the provided billing records.
Finally, the court concluded that the plaintiffs' lawyers sought to recover fees that the court had previously determined were unreasonable and excessive.
In sum, the court held that the lawyers' fee application was improper and made in bad faith, and should be denied in its ?entirety.
The lessons of this case go far beyond the realm of court-ordered legal fees. Whether lawyers are seeking fees from a client directly, or from a court, they owe a continuing fiduciary duty to insure that their time entries are accurate. Where clients are paying directly, the rates to be charged must be clearly explained in the engagement letter. All entries must be contemporaneous and sufficiently detailed to enable the reviewer, whether client or court, to determine precisely what services were performed, and when. Unless a client has agreed to block billing, i.e., aggregating multiple discrete tasks in one time entry, that approach is likely to lead to disputes, and to sour the relationship, and, ultimately, may deprive the lawyers of the ability or right to collect the fees they are seeking.
While this case represents an extreme example of the consequences for failing to follow proper time recording and billing practices, it serves wider notice of the need for firms to supervise, on an ongoing basis, compliance with their billing policies and procedures. The New Year's resolution is obvious: All time entries should be made and entered contemporaneously, and in sufficient detail to enable the recipient of the bill (or anyone later called upon to review it) to determine exactly what services were provided, and by whom, and how long each activity lasted.
Anthony E. Davis is a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson and a past president of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.