The Laffey Matrix is used as a guideline for reasonable attorney fees in the Washington-Baltimore area. An updated version is available that adjusts the rates for the high cost of living. Virginia courts are not bound by the Laffey Matrix, but the Fourth Circuit has indicated that the Laffey matrix is a “useful starting point to determine fees.” The Laffey Matrix was further modified in Grissom v. Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 323 (4th Cir. 2008), where it was adjusted specifically for Northern Virginia and presented in a form that has come to be known as the Grissom Table. In a recent federal-court decision, Judge Cacheris considered all three guidelines prior to awarding the plaintiff $75,832.73 of the $131,598.25 sought.
In Ebersole v. Kline-Perry (discussed earlier here in connection with the court’s slashing of the jury’s award of punitive damages), the court began its analysis by determining the “lodestar amount” – the product of a reasonable fee and a reasonable hourly rate. Federal courts sitting in Virginia consider twelve “Johnson/Kimbrell” factors for guidance in determining reasonableness, which Judge Cacheris noted encompass the factors normally relied upon by Virginia state courts in awarding fees in business-conspiracy cases.
Those factors are: (1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney’s opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney’s expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorneys’ fees awards in similar cases.
In a detailed 49-page opinion too lengthy to adequately summarize here, the court applied the Johnson/Kimbrell factors to the plaintiff’s fee petition and ultimately found the requested fees somewhat excessive. Highlights:
- The rate of a junior attorney was cut from $250 to $200 based primarily on the Grissom Table.
- Judge Cacheris addressed the issue of block billing (a.k.a. “lumping” of time entries) by cutting the lodestar amount by 15%.
- Judge Cacheris declined to reduce the fees in light of plaintiff’s lack of success on his tortious interference claim because all of the plaintiff’s claims arose from a “common core of facts.”
- The court applied a “rough sense of equity” in reducing the lodestar an additional 10% in light of the fact the plaintiff was only partially successful and ultimately won only $45,000 in damages.