February 16, 2013
Uncapped Hourly Fees Not Unreasonable In Domestic Relations Matters
In a lengthy report worthy of more than a cursory review, a Louisiana Hearing Committee rejected the vast majority of excessive fees charges brought against an attorney by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC").
The committee found only two violations of Rule 1.5 and recommended a public reprimand.
The fighting issue in most of the cases was whether the attorney's hourly charges in domestic relations cases were excessive. ODC did not allege that the billings were false; only that it was way too many hours.
The committee rejected the approach:
While ODC has asserted innumerable factual and legal bases for its formal charges, few were well founded. Overall, ODC failed to prove that the work performed by Respondent, his partners, his associates or staff was unnecessary or otherwise performed solely for the purpose of running up the bill to the detriment of his clients. [ODC] established that Respondent's fees exceeded, sometimes far exceeded, that of his opponents...
Respondent was successful in proving to this Committee that [a number of factors] justified the work performed and the fees charged.
ODC agreed that the attorney's hourly fee rates were reasonable.
The committee noted that Respondent's clients had the means to pay his fees and wanted no stone left unturned on their behalf. Further, no client had complained about the attorney's bills until much later and the late-blooming complaints might reflect "buyer's remorse." It also rejected the testimony (and perceived hand in the prosecution) of a former litigation opponent against whom the attorney has an unsatisfied multi - million dollar judgment.
Because the attorney prevailed against most of the allegations, the committee declined to recommend that he pay the costs of prosecution.
The committee had some "concluding remarks" about the prosecution, which it viewed as a dispute over the attorney's "business model" of charging uncapped hourly fees in domestic relations matters. The committee clearly viewed the conduct as permitted under the present Rules. (Mike Frisch)
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