Supreme Court of Texas Clarifies Proof Required for Attorney's Fees

In an opinion delivered on October 25, 2013, City of Laredo v. Montano,the Supreme Court of Texas clarified an issue that is of importance across this State to clients and attorneys — the proof required to support an award of attorney’s fees. Although attorney’s fees are not always awarded in family law cases, they are often requested especially in highly litigated cases. This opinion is something with which the family law community should be aware.

Here, the Court found that an attorney’s trial calculation of a “barebones minimum” estimate of 6 hours per week for 226 weeks as time worked on a case was not enough to support the $339,000 fee awarded. The Court noted that some weeks were surely more, and some were surely less. Because the record did not further explain that “6 hour” figure, it could not satisfy the standard required for an award of attorney’s fees. The Court also noted its “puzzlement” that the attorney made no records of time, prepared no bills, and “does not appear to have known how much he was owed … until the calculations at trial.”

While this case dealt with a fee-shifting statute under the Texas Property Code, it is instructive to attorneys and clients in family law cases. Attorneys should keep detailed billing statements of the work performed on each client’s case and use those statements when seeking fees in court. Clients, you should expect to receive monthly billing statements from your attorneys showing the work done on your case. If you can’t tell what was going on, you are likely going to have a hard time getting a judge to order the opposing side to foot the bill.

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