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Judge says BigLaw firm sought fees for research on ‘basic and banal’ legal principles

Posted Jan 21, 2014 7:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Mayer Brown took a thrashing last week from a Manhattan judge who denied the firm’s $126,000 fee request for helping two tenants recover a $6,400 security deposit and treble damages from their landlord.

Judge Frank Nervo said a junior associate spent “a grossly unnecessary amount of time” on simple matters, and the firm had “unabashedly invoiced” oversight work by a senior associate with a billing rate of $615 an hour and a partner with a rate of $895 an hour. The New York Law Journal (sub. req. after five articles) has the story. The opinion is posted here (PDF).

Nervo said the law firm’s statement of counsel services “demonstrates much duplicated effort” as well as “research on the most basic and banal legal principles.”

One of the tenants was the son of a corporate CEO who is a client of the law firm. The firm’s lawyer had indicated that Mayer Brown represented the tenant as a favor and was not looking to recover any fees from the clients.

"The court will not countenance the gross overreaching evidenced under the facts and circumstances of this case in which the client is not even being billed for legal services,” Nervo wrote. “To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable.”

The junior associate on the case now works at Brooklyn Defender Services. She told Nero in a hearing last month that her goal was to complete the lawsuit “as diligently and as completely as I could and as I would for any other client in any other court.” She noted several issues, including service of process when the landlord has only provided a Maryland PO box, the location of her clients in France, and delaying tactics by the landlord.

A Mayer Brown spokeswoman did not comment to the New York Law Journal.

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