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Cost adjustment in lawyer’s fee award

A mortgage borrower won over $11,000 in attorney’s fees in his suit alleging a lender failed to timely notify him his loan had been transferred. Won Kim sued under the Truth in Lending Act, and after he accepted an offer of judgment for $4,001, his lawyer asked for fees at an hourly rate of $500.

It’s not easy being a plaintiff’s lawyer in consumer protection cases, acknowledged Alexandria U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, as claims involving clients in financial distress “present a far greater risk that the attorney will not see any payment at all,” compared to lawyers with other kinds of clients.

And you don’t win a lot of friends at the defense bar. In Kim’s case, the defense lawyer said the plaintiff’s lawyer, Christopher Brown, who has championed a number of homeowners threatened with foreclosure, had a poor reputation in area state and federal courts, and Kim’s case was just a “plain vanilla Truth in Lending Act case.”

O’Grady said the work Brown “endeavors on behalf of his clients is sound and is not cause for the court to find the rate he charged or the hours he worked were excessive.”

Still, $500 per hour was a little steep, O’Grady found. He checked the Laffey Matrix, used for lawyer fees in the District of Columbia, and then applied the Grissom Graph based on a 2008 employment case from Northern Virginia, decided by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Interestingly, O’Grady boosted Brown’s hourly rate under the Grissom graph – $335 for a federal litigator with 18 years’ experience – to $380, a 14 percent increase.

Between the time the Grissom Graph was adopted in 2008 and 2013, the hourly rate in the Laffey Matrix increased by about 14 percent, O’Grady said, and he applied that increase to Brown’s hourly rate.

With credit for 30 hours of the 47.5 hours claimed by Brown, the court set his fee at $11,400, in the July 29 case of Kim v. U.S. Bank NA.

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