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Serin v. Northern Leasing Systems, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44151 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2011).  Premium Content - Sign on to View
The hourly rate for a recently-admitted attorney whose fees were being recovered by successful plaintiffs was increased due to the attorney’s prior experience as a discovery consultant. The court stated that it “would be ignoring the realities of modern litigation if it did not take into account the value of an attorney who is skilled at e-discovery.”

Plaintiffs in a civil racketeering case arising from allegedly forged leases applied for about $3.5 million in attorney fees after the case settled on the eve of trial for payment of $295,000 in varying amounts to the six plaintiffs. In the settlement, defendants apparently waived their right to challenge plaintiffs’ entitlement to an award of attorney fees. The magistrate judge recommended an award of $543,348 in attorney fees.

The court stated that it often “felt as though it was refereeing a dispute between squabbling teenagers, rather than adjudicating a serious lawsuit in federal court.” The court thus considered the large number of motions filed over “petty discovery disputes” highly relevant to determination of attorney fees. According to the court, “Defendants have purposely engaged in dilatory tactics, disputing every discovery request of the Plaintiffs, even where that information was obviously discoverable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26; similarly, the Plaintiffs objected any time the Defendants withheld information, even where it was clearly justified for the Defendants to do so.”

The court concluded that the magistrate judge went too far in reducing the requested rate of $425 per hour to $275 per hour for an attorney who had been admitted to the bar for less than three years. The attorney had years of e-discovery expertise from his consulting work prior to becoming an attorney, and “[t]he Court would be ignoring the realities of modern litigation if it did not take into account the value of an attorney who is skilled at e-discovery.” The court thus set that attorney’s rate at $325 per hour, which was the same as his pre-lawyer consulting fee. The court held that his attorney rate did not have to be set higher that his consulting rate because his work as an attorney was unrelated much of the time to his e-discovery expertise.