Judge Blasts Firm for $126,000 Legal Fee Recovery Request

, New York Law Journal

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Mayer Brown's request to recover about $126,000 in attorney fees in a landlord-tenant case received a blistering response from a Manhattan judge, who lambasted the firm's billing records as showing a "stunningly inordinate amount of time" on simple tasks.

"The court will not countenance the gross overreaching evidenced under the facts and circumstances of this case in which the client is not even being billed for legal services. To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable," Manhattan Civil Court Judge Frank Nervo (See Profile) said this week in Clozel v. Jalisi, 11227/12, denying any fee award to Mayer Brown.

Mayer Brown represented Thomas Clozel and Chine Labbe in successfully recovering a $6,400 security deposit and treble damages from their former landlord, a total of $19,200. It also defeated attempts by the landlord, Hasan Jalisi, to vacate a default judgment.

Mayer Brown associate Bridget Kessler told Nervo that the firm's representation in the case was "done as a favor" and the firm was "not looking to recover" anything from the clients because its representation was an accommodation, according to the judge.

Clozel's father is a founder and CEO of Swiss biopharmaceutical company Actelion, which is a client of Mayer Brown in other matters, firm partner Lee Abrams said in an interview. "We agreed to help," he said.

In the landlord-tenant case, Mayer Brown asked for $126,026 from Jalisi, submitting a 14-page statement of its services.

"This statement demonstrates much duplicated effort, research on the most basic and banal legal principles that a client could reasonably expect" for an attorney with prior knowledge of the issues charging at least $405 an hour, Nervo said.

The judge said some work wouldn't require oversight by a more senior associate—Jason Kirschner, at $615 an hour, and partner, Abrams, at $895 an hour—"all as unabashedly invoiced here."

Nervo said the billing was "particularly egregious" considering Mayer Brown calls itself a "global law firm with a large litigation practice" that routinely represents clients in landlord/tenant matters.

Nervo ticked off examples of what he said was overbilling. For instance, Kessler researched Civil Court procedural rules and pleading requirements, law on security deposits and real estate licensing and drafted a complaint on one day in February 2012, totaling $1,822 for 4.5 hours.

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