US BigLaw firm drops request for over US$650,000 in attorney fees

A US district judge ruled that the firm could not seal billing rates.

US BigLaw firm drops request for over US$650,000 in attorney fees

US BigLaw firm King & Spalding dropped a request to receive over US$650,000 in attorney fees after a ruling that they could not hide their billing rates, according to the American Bar Association Journal.

King & Spalding had made the request after filing a lawsuit to obtain Justice Department records regarding a federal investigation into a medical device company’s marketing practices. The firm claimed that legal fees and costs had mounted after the government delayed in providing the information, only doing so after “nearly four years of unnecessary wrangling.”

The firm had filed a motion to seal documents indicating the billing rates and specific tasks of the lawyers involved in the case. Initially, US District Judge Amit Mehta had acceded to the motion, “thinking—mistakenly, as it turned out—that the Sealed Motion was unopposed.”

After the US Justice Department asked for reconsideration, Mehta changed his position in a ruling made on 7 April.

King & Spalding had posited that keeping the billing rates secret would not affect public access to the proceedings and that neither party would be prejudiced in the process. The firm said that “the public distribution of… billing rates and other details will harm the firm’s standing with respect to its competitors” and that it had presented the rates “for the sole purpose of showing that it has requested a reasonable award of fees and costs in light of the value of attorney time and other costs expended.”

However, the Justice Department argued that King & Spalding had previously disclosed its billing rates publicly in other matters; therefore, claiming competitive harm had no “sound legal basis.”

Moreover, Mehta acknowledged that “the public interest in disclosure is arguably at its zenith when the fee demand is made against the public fisc.”

“Indeed, there is something untoward about [King & Spalding] asking to conceal their hourly rates and the work done from public view, while demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public treasury as compensation,” he said in his statement.

On 8 April, King & Spalding withdrew their motion for attorney’s fees and requested that the sealed documents not be filed on the public docket. They also asked for all copies of the sealed documents to be destroyed. While the Justice Department agreed to keep the documents sealed, they opposed the destruction of the documents, citing that they “are aware of no authority, and [King & Spalding] cites none, that would require the court to destroy documents that have been filed on the court docket.”

Thus, the US Attorney’s Office will keep the documents sealed in its case file, and they will be subject to disclosure pursuant to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

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