Expert witness testimony as to the reasonableness and necessity of legal fees incurred by a Bethesda law firm

by | Jun 10, 2013 | Firm News | 0 comments

In June 2013, Stewart A. Sutton testified as an expert witness concerning the reasonableness and necessity of the legal fees a Bethesda law firm had purportedly incurred in a collection case against its former client.  The Bethesda law firm had obtained a $63,000 judgment in a collection case against its former client for legal services performed in representing her in an underlying divorce.  In a post-judgment proceeding, the Bethesda law firm sought about $110,000 in legal fees and costs it had allegedly incurred in obtaining the $63,000 judgment.

In determining the amount of attorney’s fees that a prevailing party should be awarded pursuant to a fee-shifting provision in a retainer agreement, the court must apply the 8 factors of Rule 1.5(a) of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rule of Professional Conduct.  Maxima Corporation v. 6933 Arlington Development Limited Partnership 100 Md.App. 441, 454 (1994).  While “time spent and hourly rate are important factors”, the computation of a reasonable fee does not end there.  Head v. Head  66 Md.App. 655, 671 (1986).  The other Rule 1.5(a) factors, including skill, difficulty, amount involved, experience, ability, reputation, and results obtained, also must be considered.  Id.

The “burden is on the party seeking recovery [of attorney’s fees] to provide the evidence necessary for the fact finder to evaluate the reasonableness of the fees.   Maxima Corporation v. 6933 Arlington Development Limited Partnership 100 Md.App. 441, 454 (1994).

It was Stewart A. Sutton’s opinion that $110,000 in legal fees and costs incurred by the Bethesda law firm were wholly unreasonable in relationship to the  judgment it obtained for the legal services performed in the underlying divorce case.  The Court agreed and awarded only $63,000 in attorney’s fees to the Bethesda law firm.

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