Expert Witness: Reasonableness of Attorney Fees

I frequently testify as an expert witness for parties as to the reasonableness of attorney fees. In Michigan, the party requesting an award of attorney fees bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the fees requested.

First, the trial judge determines a baseline reasonable hourly rate derived from “reliable surveys or other credible evidence” showing the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services. Second, the trial judge must multiply this rate by the reasonable number of hours expended in the case. The product of this calculation serves as the “starting point for calculating a reasonable attorney fee.”

Finally, the trial judge may make up-or-down adjustments to the fee after considering certain factors enumerated in Rule 1.5(a) of the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct and any additional relevant factors. The fee applicant, bears the burden of supporting the claimed hours with evidentiary support, including detailed billing records, which the may be contested with regard to reasonableness. Note that an itemized bill of costs by itself is insufficient to establish the reasonableness of the hours claimed. The judge is not required to accept an itemized bill of costs on its face nor is the judge required to accept an attorney's representation that the hours identified in the bill of costs were reasonably expended. The fee applicant must demonstrate by documentation or specific testimony, or both, that the time identified as expended on a billable item was actually and reasonably expended.

Categories: General