Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is in the midst of an ongoing fee dispute – with District Court Judge Royce Lamberth.
In August, when Wilmer and Wiley Rein asked for $20 million in fees for their work in the whistleblower case Miller v. Bill Harbert International Construction. Lamberth, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, chopped the figure down to $7.5 million. Yesterday, he did it again.
For its post-trial work in Miller, Wilmer had asked for about $1.3 million in compensation from the defendant. The tab covered the work that went into producing new briefs, and the time calculating fees for the 14 years of litigation. In his response yesterday, Lamberth awarded the firm about $730,000, as well as a lecture.
True to the judge’s full-throated style, the opinion runs down a detailed list of Wilmer’s missteps, declaring in a footnote that the case was "yet another reason to proclaim that ‘this is the time to get rid of the billable hour.’"
So what exactly did Wilmer do wrong? To start, Lamberth docked the firm 10 percent for what he described as vague billing entries that explained little about the work being done. He then subtracted another 10 percent for the firm’s practice of block billing, and shaved a bit off the amount billed for clerical work, explaining that some of those fees should have simply counted as overhead. The chief judge also prevented the firm from using its 2008 rates for work done in 2007.
But Lamberth reserved his harshest criticism for the firm’s “excessive” use of its top billers. For each of its four post-trial briefs, which together totaled 115 pages, Wilmer assigned a team of one senior partner and one associate, plus six extra associates for research. Each brief was then reviewed by all four of the partners.
By the end of that round robin, Wilmer was billing $4,052.96 per page.
“The Court is wary of allowing this case to become a cash cow for [Wilmer’s] attorneys, in which they can run up bills by having senior partners do excessive work knowing that the defendants will eventually have to foot the bill,” the opinion says.