Posts Tagged ‘multiplier’

Court Finds Added Value of Paralegal Work

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

From time to time the paralegal profession receives a boost from the recognition it receives from a court and I’m always pleased to post about those boosts. Today’s example is the matter of STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY v. EDGE FAMILY CHIROPRACTIC, P.A. et. als., Case No. 1D10-0565 from the First District Court of Appeal in Florida as reported by leagle.com. The primary issue in this case was whether it is proper for a court to apply a “multiplier” to paralegal fees as well as attorney fees when awarding fees to a party.

As the court notes, “the purpose of the multiplier is to enhance the fee calculated under the lodestar methodology to take into account the fact that an attorney working on a contingent fee contract is generally not compensated for any of the services provided to a client when the client does not prevail. See Fla. Patient’s Comp. Fund v. Rowe, 472 So. 2d 1145, 1151 (Fla. 1985) (“Because the attorney working under a contingent fee contract receives no compensation when his client does not prevail, he must charge a client more than the attorney who is guaranteed remuneration for his services.”), reaffirmed in pertinent part by, Standard Guarantee Ins. Co. v. Quanstrom, 555 So. 2d 828, 834 (Fla. 1990). Because the potentially uncompensated legal services provided to the client include not only the attorney’s work, but also the paralegal’s work, it is appropriate to apply the multiplier to the paralegal fees included in the award. Stated another way, because the paralegal’s work is part of the legal services provided to the client, there is no principled reason to treat paralegal fees any different from attorney’s fees in regards to the application of the multiplier.”

The court relied a great deal on section 57.104, Florida Statutes, which provides:

In any action in which attorney’s fees are to be determined or awarded by the court, the court shall consider, among other things, time and labor of any legal assistants who contributed nonclerical, meaningful legal support to the matter involved and who are working under the supervision of an attorney.

It also relied on U. S. Supreme Court decisions:

In Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274 (1989), for example, the Court held that the term “reasonable attorney’s fee” in 42 U.S.C. § 1988 encompasses not only the work of the attorney, but also that of paralegals whose labor contributes to the attorney’s ultimate work product. Id. at 285 (“We thus take as our starting point the self-evident proposition that the `reasonable attorney’s fee’ provided for by statute should compensate the work of paralegals, as well as that of attorneys.”). The Court also observed that the use of lower cost paralegals rather than attorneys encourages cost-effective delivery of legal services and reduces the cost of litigation because, if paralegal fees were not recoverable as part of the attorney’s fee award “it would not be surprising to see a greater amount of such work performed by attorneys themselves, thus increasing the overall cost of litigation.” Id. at 288 n.10.

The Court recently reaffirmed Jenkins in Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff, 128 S. Ct. 2007 (2008), where it held the term “attorney’s fees” in another federal statute included fees for paralegal services as well as compensation for the attorney’s own labor. As in Jenkins, the Court declared that it was “self-evident” that the statute embraced not only attorney’s fees, but also paralegal fees. Id. at 2014-15.

Thus, it appears that both the Florida Legislature and this Florida court have a firm grasp on the role and value of paralegals to the lawyers they assist and the legal system as a whole. This recognition can only help resolve some of the confusion in this regard still held by much of the public and many members of the bar.