The Second Circuit today upheld an Albany district court’s decision to slash the hourly rates of big city lawyers who succeeded in blocking an election that violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court clarified Second Circuit law on awards under fee-shifting statutes by, among other things, authorizing district courts to apply a "forum rule" (limiting permissible rates to those prevailing in the district court’s locality) and to consider the reputational and publicity benefits that outlander lawyers hope to garner from the representation. The court also emphasized that district courts should strive to recreate a reasonable hourly rate that a paying client in the area would have agreed to pay from his own pocket. Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass’n v. County of Albany, No. 06-0086-cv (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007) (available at www.ca2.uscourts.gov).
Blawgletter wonders how law firms considering potential pro bono work will react. Ordinarily, the firms take on non-paying work with the knowledge that they may lose but also with the hope that they can recoup their time and expenses should they prevail. Taking as it does a hypothetical market that doesn’t exist (one for paying non-paying work) as its starting point, Arbor Hill may restrain these aspiring Publiuses’ ardor.