Many potential litigants believe the prevailing party to a lawsuit is always entitled to recover attorney’s fees from the other side. Contrary to this popular belief, the general rule in our American legal system is that each party must pay its own legal fees, unless a specific rule provides otherwise. Even when the law does provide the right to recover attorney’s fees, specific rules govern the total fees that may be recovered. On April 26, 2019, the Supreme Court of Texas handed down its decision in Venture v. UTSW DVA Healthcare, LLP, which clarifies that there is only one acceptable way to recover attorneys’ fees in Texas courts. The framework for measuring the reasonableness and necessity of attorney’s fees established by Venture is the lodestar method.
The lodestar method requires a fact-finding judge or jury to determine whether the requested amount of attorney’s fees is reasonable and necessary before shifting that cost to the losing party. To be awarded fees, the prevailing party’s attorney must present evidence showing how many hours were spent working on the case and why the rates charged for those hours is reasonable. Venture established the following minimum requirements for attorney fee evidence:
- The particular services performed,
- The person who performed those services,
- The approximate date when the services were performed,
- The reasonable amount of time required to perform the services, and
- The reasonable hourly rate for each person performing such services.
To satisfy the loadstar requirements, attorneys should maintain contemporaneous billing records on a consistent basis. This practice ensures accurate records of the tasks performed and enhances the likelihood of a successful fee application. Ultimately, keeping well-documented fee records assists clients both in understanding the legal work that is being performed for them and in recovering as much of their legal fees as is possible.
Savannah Judkins participated in Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter’s 2019 Summer Internship Program. She is a law student at Baylor Law School with an interest in Probate Litigation.