Attention to Detail will Promote the Prompt Processing of Your Fee Claim

Article by Jonathan Grossman and Dallas Sacher

Attorneys understandably desire a quick response to compensation claims. SDAP endeavors to process claims as quickly as possible. Many claims are slowed by a few common mistakes. Attorneys who avoid these mistakes will receive swifter service.

As a cardinal rule, attorneys should provide an explanation for any line item which is either out of the ordinary or over guidelines. In particular, any item listed as an "other service" should be explained unless the nature of the service is self evident. For example, "telephone call to Attorney General" need not be explained whereas "Interview with Mr. Smith" requires an explanation.

In a similar vein, a category of service must contain an appropriate itemization. For example, if an attorney conducts a habeas investigation by interviewing several witnesses, it is not sufficient to claim 7.0 hours for "witness interviews." Rather, the length of each interview must be specified (i.e. 1.0 hour with Mr. Jones, 1.0 hour with Ms. Black, etc.).

The same rule holds true for multiple pleadings. If you have filed three motions, you should specify the amount of time claimed for each motion. This information should be included in the explanation section of the claim.

SDAP encourages attorneys to frequently communicate with their clients, trial counsel and other relevant people connected to the case. We have often approved communication time in excess of the guidelines' figure of 3.5 hours. However, in order to obtain an award over guidelines, you must provide an explanation for the extent of the communications. In so doing, you should list the number of letters and phone calls which were exchanged and with whom. If a family member provided assistance in communicating with the client, this time is compensable so long as it is detailed in your explanation.

A common time-consuming task for SDAP staff is reconciling the attorney's reported record length with the length listed at our office. In most cases, we enclose with the record a sheet indicating our page count. If your page count is different, you need to explain why. Absent your explanation, we will presume that our count is correct.

In calculating the length of the reporter's transcript, do not blindly look at the page number at the end of the transcript. Several court reporters use the block numbering method whereby each volume of the transcript is listed as 250 pages whether or not it contains that many pages. An accurate page count is possible only by counting the length of each volume and adding them together.
Review of the preliminary hearing transcript is not compensable unless it is relevant to a potential appellate issue. If you believe compensation for reading the preliminary hearing transcript is appropriate, you need to explain why.

If you have augmented the record, the additional pages should be listed in the appropriate box, i.e., the augmented clerk's transcript should be included in the "CT" box and the augmented reporter's transcript should be listed in the "RT" box. In addition, the length of the augmented record should be listed in the explanation section of the claim.

Ordinarily, there is no reason to use the "other" box for record length since the record on appeal generally consists of only the clerk's and reporter's transcripts. If you use the "other" box, you must provide an explanation for the listed item. Review of items outside the record on appeal should not be included in the "other" box. Such review should be listed as an "other service."

With respect to your claim for briefs, any item over guidelines must be explained. If a particular issue took more time than would be apparent to a reviewer, you need to provide an explanation. For example, the issue may be novel and you may have performed out-of-state research which did not yield results. Or, if SDAP provided a brief on point, you may have needed to make wholesale changes because of the facts of your case or intervening case law.

If you have any questions about how to fill out a claim form, call SDAP before you submit the claim. By filling out the form correctly, you will expedite the payment of your claim.

Finally, it is only necessary to send the original claim. We do not need a copy.

March 19, 2004

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