Legal Memorandum: Calculating Reasonable Attorney's Fees

Issue: What strategies are available to reduce the amount requested by a plaintiff for an attorney’s fee award?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Reasonable attorney fees; Lodestar method; Calculation
Jurisdiction: Federal, Louisiana
Cited Cases: 50 F.3d 319; 805 F.2d 528; 876 F. 2d 465; 869 F.2d 1565; 465 U.S. 886; 778 F.2d 1068
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1988
Date: 03/01/2011

The Fifth Circuit uses the “lodestar” method to calculate reasonable attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.*FN1  See, e.g., Riley v. City of Jackson, 99 F.3d 757 (5th Cir. 1996); Sims v. Jefferson Downs Racing Ass’n, 778 F.2d 1068 (5th Cir. 1985); Piazza’s Seafood World, LLC v. Odom, No. 04-690 (E.D. La. Aug. 31, 2009).  A lodestar analysis requires a two-step procedure.  La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 324 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Hensley v. Eckerman, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

First, the court must determine the reasonable number of hours expended on the litigation and the reasonable hourly rate for the attorney(s).  The lodestar amount is the product of multiplying the reasonable hours expended by the reasonable hourly rate.  SEC v. Hollier, No. 09-928 (W.D. La. Jan. 11, 2011).  Next, the court must apply the twelve factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc. 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974) to determine whether the lodestar should be enhanced or adjusted downward.  Wilks v. Astrue, No. 07-1229 (W.D. La. June 22, 2009).  At each juncture, there are potential arguments that, depending on the circumstances, can be made to convince the court to reduce the amount of fees requested by the prevailing party.  Evidentiary deficiencies are a leading cause for reduction.

A.        Reasonable Hours Expended

1.         General Principles

The number of hours on which a fee applicant bases his fee […]

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