Monday, March 17, 2008

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments Over Reimbursement of Paralegal Costs

Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments over reimbursement for paralegal costs in Richlin Security Service v. Chertoff, and I, for one, am holding my breath until July, when a decision will be made.

Surely other paralegals are anxious, too. In one fell swoop, the Supreme Court could validate the existence and use of paralegals -- or relegate them to unreimburseable and therefore unusuable status. If the Court decides in favor of Richlin, which is claiming $52,000 in paralegal fees, paralegal utilization will be seen as efficient and cost-effective. If the Court decides in favor of Chertoff, who will want to use paralegals in litigation against the Federal government?

Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), litigants against the Federal government, if they prevail, can be reimbursed for attorneys' fees and costs, but no provision is made for paralegal services. According to Brian Wolfman of Public Citizen Litigation Group, high court counsel to Richlin Security Service, paralegals are used heavily by smaller firms in the hundreds of Social Security, veterans and contract cases filed predominantly in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as other circuits. The Federal Circuit ruled that paralegal services should be reimbursed at the actual cost to the firm, not the prevailing market rate.

Wolfman relies on the Supreme Court's decision in Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 285 (1995), which interpreted another fee-shifting statute, 42 U.S.C. 1988. Jenkins, Wolfman argues, held that paralegal services are "attorney's fees" under Section 1988 because that term logically includes charges not only for the work of members of the bar, but also for other law firm personnel whose services contribute to the lawyer's work product. Jenkins also said, he argues, that paralegal services are compensable at market rates if they are billed separately in the relevant legal community, and that separate paralegal billing encourages efficient delivery of legal services.

1 comment:

  1. Did the U.S. Supreme Court decide in favor of Richlin? Thanks.

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