WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge will allow expert testimony in a legal malpractice case only on the question of whether an attorney breached the appropriate standard of care by not requesting Laffey Matrix hourly rates in a fee petition. To get into other questions, the judge said, would allow expert witnesses to “invade the jury’s function.”
U.S. District Judge John Bates handed down the ruling in a case between a client and her attorney Robert Hickey, who successfully represented her in an employment discrimination suit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Hickey sued his client in the D.C. Circuit for failure to pay his fees, and she countersued for legal malpractice, claiming that Hickey only requested his lower, contractual hourly rate in his petition to the Commission, and not fees established by the Laffey Matrix, a billing rate formula established by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia based on experience levels for particular billing years.
“The Court recognizes that there is a fine line between expert testimony on why Hickey’s failure to petition for Laffey rates constituted a breach of the standard of care (which is permissible) and expert testimony on whether a reasonable ALJ would have awarded Laffey rates if Hickey had sought them (which is not permissible),” stated the judge.