Chief Judge of the D.D.C. Beryl A. Howell recently ordered plaintiffs to start using the “Fitzpatrick Matrix,” a new tool developed by Brian Fitzpatrick of Vanderbilt Law School, to calculate attorneys’ fees in fee-shifting litigation against the government.   Chief Judge Howell explored the benefits of the Fitzpatrick Matrix in  J.T. v. District of Columbia, a challenge brought under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

Matrices have been employed in complex federal litigation where fee-shifting statutes award the prevailing party “reasonable” attorney’s fees. Think Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act, IDEA, and others. The Supreme Court considers a reasonable fee to be one that “is sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil rights case.” The debate over the correct way to calculate reasonable attorneys’ fees has spawned considerable litigation.

The original matrix, first presented in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines and adopted by the D.C. Circuit in Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, quickly became the D.C. Circuit’s modus operandi for calculating reasonable hourly rates despite the small sample size used in its formation and inability to adjust for inflation. Now over forty years old, the fees deemed reasonable under the Laffey Matrix no longer have any known connection to the rates actually charged in the legal market.

Enter the Fitzpatrick Matrix. Commissioned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the matrix is based on 675 data points—one data point for each year in which a lawyer charged an hourly rate—from 419 lawyers in 84 complex federal litigation cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia between 2013 and 2020. In addition to featuring a more robust and up-to-date dataset, the matrix features thirty-six individual experience categories as opposed to Laffey’s five categories, which enables rate calculation based on attorney experience and expertise.

Courts need a workable standard that accurately reflects the current legal market and enables parties with meritorious cases to efficiently file claims in a way that doesn’t protract litigation. The Fitzpatrick Matrix does exactly this by providing nuanced and updated data.


Read more about Professor Fitzpatrick’s matrix here.

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