Q. If I win a case pursuant to a fee-shifting statute, do I automatically receive attorneys’ fees?

A. No. The first thing you better do is file a timely fees request. In federal court, that generally means no later than 14 days after the entry of judgment. Each state has its own rules.

Q. Only a “prevailing party” is eligible for a fees award. Does that mean you need a judgment in your favor?

A. No. In many jurisdictions, a favorable settlement can qualify you for an award. You may even qualify if your suit serves as a “catalyst” to getting the defendant to change its behavior voluntarily.

Q. Are only plaintiffs eligible for fee awards?

A. No. In appropriate cases, defendants and even intervenors or objectors can qualify for fee awards.

Q. What determines the amount of the award?

A. In fee-shifting cases, it’s generally the lodestar – reasonable hours multiplied by the prevailing market rate in your geographical area.

Q. Are courts likely to rubber-stamp the request, or do they ever knock it down because the hours expended or the hourly rate is too high?

A. Courts frequently knock down requests, especially when defendants vigorously challenge them.

Q. What can I do to maximize my chances of receiving the full requested award?

A. First, maintain and provide documentation as specific as possible. Second, hire an attorneys’ fees expert who can offer a declaration vouching for the reasonableness of your request.

Q. Is the lodestar always the basis for an award?

A. In exceptional cases, the court may make an upward or downward adjustment to the lodestar.

Q. Is all of this the same when attorneys seek fees from a “common fund,” as tends to happen in class actions?

A. No. In a common fund situation, courts typically award a reasonable percentage of the fund. That’s a different calculus requiring a different fee application and raising different kinds of disputes.

Q. So with respect to either a fee-shifting statute or common fund situation, a fees application can be disputed and many different issues can complicate the matter?

A. Yes!

Q. Is there some place I can quickly get up to speed on the range of relevant issues?

A. You may find this manual helpful.

Q. Anything else I can do to assist an application for fees?

A. It often helps to retain a fees expert.

Q. To do what?

A. To file a declaration supporting your request (or opposing a request made by the adversary against you), explaining why it’s reasonable under the circumstances. And, if the matter goes to a hearing, he can testify on your behalf.

Q. Where can I find a qualified expert?

A. Click here

small_hirsch1The Federal Judicial Center's Attorney's Fees Monograph, coauthored by Professor Hirsch.