U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Good Lawyering Merits Fee Boost

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether winning lawyers may be awarded enhanced fees under a fee-shifting statute because of good performance and a good result.

The case stems from $10.5 million in fees awarded to Marcia Robinson Lowry of Children’s Rights Inc. and lawyer Jeffrey Bramlett, currently the president of the State Bar of Georgia, for their lawsuit forcing changes in Georgia’s foster care system, according to the Fulton County Daily Report.

The award represented a $6 million lodestar award and a $4.5 million enhancement, according to the Daily Report and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob said the lawyers deserved the extra fee because their work was “truly exceptional” and they exhibited more skill, commitment and professionalism than he had ever seen in 27 years on the bench.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed the fee award last July, saying precedent required the result. But Judge Ed Carnes made clear he disagreed with the idea of boosting fees for an exceptional result.

Carnes said increasing the award for good lawyering double counts qualities captured by hourly billing or the contingent nature of the case. He said plaintiffs’ lawyers should not be given more money for simply winning what the law allows, nor should they be rewarded for winning more than the law allows.

“When asked how much money would be enough for him, John D. Rockefeller reportedly said, ‘Just a little bit more,’ ” Carnes wrote. “The attorneys for the plaintiff class in this case want more than just a little bit more.”

SCOTUSblog says the Supreme Court could decide whether such a fee boost is ever allowed, and the outcome could affect fee enhancements under more than 100 federal fee-shifting laws.

The case is Perdue v. Kenny A.

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