Sole practitioner fee cannot be “blended”

The 2nd Circuit panel of Judges Guido Calabresi, Jose A. Cabranes and Richard C. Wesley, in McDonald v. Pension Plan, cv-05-1435, 1630, 1749, 4140, 4288, vacated a lower court’s attorney fee award on the grounds that the lower court inappropriately applied a blended rate to a sole practitioner’s fee application.

According to the article in the June 8th edition of the National Law Journal, a sole practitioner’s fee application was modified by the court. Instead of the $425 per hour requested, the court gave him a “blended rate” based on a hypothetical large law firm with a fee that was calculated based on what work would have been done by a lower paid associate and what work would have done by a higher paid partner.

Congratulations to the appellate court for recongizing i) that the fee request must stand on its own and not be based on a hypothetical firm and that ii) sole practitioners’ fee requests should be based on the traditional standards of expertise, difficulty of the matter handled, efficiencies of the attorney, etc. And that a sole practitioner may or may not have lower overhead is a factor for proper inquiry but not assumption.


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