Court Zingers in Legal Billing Cases

Over the years, I have read hundreds of cases from throughout the U.S. involving fee billing issues.  From these cases, I have extracted key holdings that I often rely on in making decisions on whether certain billing entries should be reduced or eliminated.

As with most all cases, the holdings in cases on fee billing issues are often very dry. And just like in other cases, courts in fee billing cases sometime get in a good dig or have a pithy way of putting across their point or sending a clear signal to the attorneys seeking approval of their fees that they are on to their games.

Here are some examples.

In this transportation case, the court thinks a “sedan” rather than a “limousine” will do quite nicely.

Simmons v. New York City Transit Authority, 575 F.3d 170 (2d Cir. 2009)(“Simmons has not shown that . . . (higher priced out of district counsel) . . . were likely to produce a substantially better result than competent counsel in the Eastern District would produce for less — in this case, substantially less — money. The TA should not be required to pay for a limousine when a sedan could have done the job.”).

Court noted client preferred the “Cadillac Escalade” and not the “Honda Civic.”

Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co., 112 F. Supp. 3d 31 (SD NY 2015)(“Here, the Court’s review of Sheppard Mullin’s bills suggests that the Beastie Boys opted to pay for, and received, the Cadillac Escalade, not the Honda Civic.”).


You mean that attorneys cannot photocopy documents better than secretaries?

Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974)(“The value of a service is not enhanced just because lawyer does it.”).

Just how many lawyers does it take to . . . 

Lipsett v. Blanco, 975 F.2d 934, 938 (1st Cir. 1992)(“A trial court should ordinarily greet a claim that several lawyers were required to perform a single set of tasks with healthy skepticism.”).

“Review” can be both an overused buzzword as well as a “signal” to the court.

In re Wicat Securities Litigation, 671 F.Supp. 726 (D.Utah 1987)(“The word ‘review’ seems to be a catchall category with great versatility in counsels’ applications. It is also a signal for the padding of hours.”).

Yet another case for attorneys to “review.”

Metro Data Systems, Inc. v. Durango Systems, Inc., 597 S. Supp. 244 (D. Ariz. 1984)(In most instances, “review” appears to be merely a synonym for “read,” a less impressive term. After all, anyone can read, but it takes a lawyer to review.).

And, of course, there is the ever popular “review and analysis.”

Metro Data Systems, Inc. v. Durango Systems, Inc., supra (“An even more amorphous term is ‘analysis.’   The Phoenix lawyers are great on analysis. There are no less than 15 time entries for analysis.  Some are for “review and analysis” . .  When the Court attempts to envision a lawyer engaged in five hours of analysis, Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ comes to mind.”).

Another “Thinker” opinion . . .

Colorado, et. al. v. Goddell Brothers, Inc., 1987 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14549 (D. Colo. Feb. 17, 1987)(Court denying compensation for entry “thinking about damages” holding “[t]his  . . . entry evokes images of lawyers affecting the attitude of Rodin’s famous statute ‘The Thinker’ as they contemplate the vagaries of a lawyer’s existence.  Thought without substance, alas, is not compensable.”).

What happens when an attorney tries to reinvent a wheel.

Wright v. U-Let-Us Skycap Services, Inc., 648 F.Supp 1216, 1224 (D. Colo. 1986)(“Every motion does not require that she begin her research anew and thus, reinvent the proverbial wheel.”).

File these under the “it should go without saying” or “no duh” category . . . 

ACLU of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F. 3d 423, 430 (11th Cir. App. 1999)(“An attorney is not entitled to be paid in a case for the work he or another attorney did in some other case.”).

ABA Formal Op. 93-379 (“It goes without saying that a lawyer . . .  is never justified in charging a client for hours not actually worked.”)

Would the result be the same if Michelangelo was a Super Lawyer?

Orsic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, 677 (3d Cir. 1983), (“Even a Michelangelo should not charge Sistene Chapel rates for painting a farmer’s barn. . .  Our cases supply no authority for rewarding non-stop meter running in law offices.”).


As these and similar cases often demonstrate, judges are hard to fool. Most were trial lawyers before they became judges and they know when they are being gamed – even if the clients do not. Thus, they can be pretty biting or pithy in their holdings.

But I also think these cases demonstrate that you always have to look past the set phrases and buzzwords that attorneys often use in billing entries. This is because the set phrases and buzzwords are often used more to confuse or obfuscate rather than inform.

Because of this, I have found that e-billing programs are really of very little use in closely reviewing legal bills. This is especially the case for reviewing bills from firms that have learned to use terms or phrases that are designed to get past e-billing review software. This is why I review legal bills the old fashioned way.  I read every word in every entry. It takes longer to do it this way.  But I have found that this produces a much more accurate result.

Do you have some favorite case holdings? If you send them along to me as I may publish some more of these types of holdings.

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