Reader attorney Frank Kautz passed on to me this link to the “Laffey Matrix,” which lists the court approved hourly rates for fee shifting case in the District of Columbia. The rates start at $105/hr for paralegals and law clerks and top out at $380/hour for attorneys with 20 years of experience or more. The fees listed provide an interesting contrast to the numbers discussed in Fair Rates for Court Appointed Counsel whereby I and various commentors addressed whether a court appointed rate of $40/hr was appropriate.
Incidentally, I don’t see a tremendous inconsistency between the rates contained in the Laffey Matrix on one hand and court appointed rates on the other. Most significantly, in court appointed cases, attorneys are always paid whether they win or lose for the client, while in fee shifting cases, attorneys only collect where the client is the prevailing party. With more risk, comes more reward. (Moreover, there are even more limitations on the fee: let’s say a client presses three issues and wins on only one. The rates are subsequently pro-rated so if the attorney spent equal time on each issue, ultimately, he or she may recover fees for only a third of that time (it won’t be as stark a breakdown because of overlap, but it’s a potential) Finally, for many of these fee shifting cases, lawyers front the costs of depositions and discovery out of pocket and thus, have greater investment in a case and risk than a court-appointed attorney.
That’s not to say that attorneys don’t make good money off fee shifting cases -better money than court appointed counsel. Which is why court-appointed attorneys should try to diversify their practices and position themselves so that they have the resources to take on other cases that will generate a bigger payday. Maybe fighting discrimination under Title 7 doesn’t give the same satisfaction as upholding the constitutional rights of the accused but if you don’t make enough money to stay in business, you can’t do either one.