Attorneys Fees Upheld Thanks To Good Record Keeping

Jumping For Joy

In Abrams v. Putney, (10A1054), the Georgia Court of Appeal upheld two awards of attorneys’ fees for a plaintiff’s attorney that sued his former client for fees after he was discharged and the case was settled with another attorney.  The fee agreement provided for a contingency award, but if the attorney was terminated prior to resolution, the attorney was entitled to an hourly rate for his work on the case.  According to the opinion, the attorney maintained good records of his time spent on the case which supported the trial court’s award in the attorney’s favor.   

The attorney also recovered attorneys’ fees for the fee dispute itself.  Again, the Court of Appeals identified a solid evidentiary record in support of the trial court’s award.  

This case stands for lesson that all attorneys handling litigation should maintain reasonably specific billing records, even if they are operating under a contingency fee agreement.  There are several reasons why this is a good idea.  (1)  If the claim includes a claim for attorneys’ fees pursuant to OCGA 13-6-11 or 9-15-14 (or some other provision), the reasonableness of the fees needs to be supported by billing records.  (2) If the attorney is terminated, as in this case, the billing records supports the claim for quantum meruit or an alternative hourly rate recovery.  (3)  If a claim is made against the attorney sounding in malpractice, the fees may be helpful evidence in support of a defense that would otherwise lack sufficient documentation.   

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In another OCGA 13-6-11 opinion, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed an award of summary judgment for attorney fees for the claimant.  The Court held that since “both the liability for and the amount of attorney fees pursuant to OCGA 13-6-11 are solely for the jury’s determination, a trial court is not authorized to grant summary judgment in favor of a claimant therefor.”  See Covington Square Assocs., LLC v. Ingles Markets, Inc.  

The Supreme Court could not have made this pronouncement more clearly.  An award under OCGA 13-6-11, which may be awarded if the defendant acted in bad faith, was stubbornly litigious, or caused the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense, may only be found by the trier of fact.

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