January 18, 2011 Practice Points

Solo Practitioners Granted Attorney Fees for Clerical Work

By Julia Guinane

According to the recent case of Cox v. District of Columbia, 2010 WL501849 (D.D.C. December 9, 2010), solo and small firm practitioners may be awarded attorney fees for performing work that is traditionally clerical.

In the consolidated action, plaintiffs filed due process complaints alleging that the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) denied plaintiffs' children a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). After reviewing extensive documentary exhibits and witnesses, the administrative hearing officer held that the DCPS had denied the children a free appropriate education. Plaintiffs submitted a petition for attorney fees and costs to DCPS pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), which DCPS disputed, partly on grounds that certain clerical and non-professional work should not be compensated at an attorney's rate.

The court, relying on past precedent, held that when an attorney is operating as either a solo practitioner or in small firms, they often lack the resources to retain a large staff of junior lawyers who could handle the task more economically, and denying plaintiffs' compensation for these tasks would unfairly punish plaintiffs and their counsel for not staffing the case as if they had the manpower of a major law firm. Cox, 2010 WL 5018149 at *10. The court also held that charges relating to work in advance of the administrative hearing were reasonable and that plaintiffs counsel's time entries were not vague or lacking specificity. Id.

Julia Guinane is with Cohen Kennedy Dowd & Quigley, PC in Phoenix, Arizona.

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