“When A Fee Expert Is Needed” By: George Nader
Florida courts generally require the testimony of a fee expert in order to assess reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing party entitled to recover fees either because of the application of a statute, rule, or contract. A non-prevailing party also will typically retain a fee expert to render opinions on the issue of the reasonable fee. Both sides will retain experienced lawyers to review the case, the files, render opinions and potentially testify by affidavit or live at an evidentiary fee hearing.
Lodestar Amount and Application of a Multiplier
The fee expert should address the lodestar following the Rowe and Quanstrom factors and Rule 4-1.5 and the issue of the potential application of a multiplier. Rendering opinions on the lodestar requires the expert witness to review the attorney-client fee agreement, critical pleadings and documents, expert reports, intimately know the facts and legal issues of the case and review in detail, line by line, the billing records of the attorneys seeking fees and the attorneys defending against the fee application. Additionally, the expert witness will need to be familiar with acceptable billing rates in the community.
Recent Legal Trends
The legal trend in the appellate courts has been to deny a multiplier. The three factors are: (1) whether the relevant market requires a multiplier to obtain competent counsel; (2) whether the attorney was able to mitigate the risk of nonpayment in any way; and (3) whether any of the Rowe factors apply, concentrating primarily on the (a) amount involved, (b) results obtained and (c) type of fee arrangement between the attorney and the client. The appellate courts have consistently held that application of a multiplier is to be considered the exception and not the rule. The lodestar is presumed to properly compensate the prevailing party’s lawyer and determine a reasonable fee. A multiplier is not out of the question and largely rests upon the facts and issues of each case. Multipliers typically range from 1.25 to 2.5 times the lodestar fee.