Laffey Matrix

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The Laffey Matrix is a fee schedule used by many United States courts for determining the proper hourly rates for professional legal work.


For many years the United States Attorney's Office has used the Laffey Matrix ("USAO Laffey Matrix") as a basis for determining attorneys' fees in litigation claims. This matrix was first introduced by the court for the District of Columbia in 1982 and has since been updated annually using changes in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers for the Washington-Baltimore area. Courts in the United States look to the Laffey Matrix when they award attorneys' fees under a fee-shifting statute, such as the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act.

Attorney fee reasonable hourly rates[edit]

Guidelines for reasonable hourly rates for attorneys were set by a federal court in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354, 371 (D.D.C. 1983), who ruled that hourly rates for attorneys practicing civil law in the Washington, DC metropolitan area could be categorized by years in practice and adjusted yearly for inflation. The fees awarded in this case were for work done primarily in 1981 and 1982. To determine reasonable rates for later periods, the United States Attorney’s Office has adjusted these original rates in accordance with changes in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the Washington-Baltimore area. The result has been a routinely updated United States Attorney’s Office Matrix; a table which provides hourly rates, based on years of experience, for attorneys, paralegals and law clerks in the Washington, D.C. area.

The United States Attorney in the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to use a version of the Laffey Matrix, whereby a legal fee matrix from the Court is used as the basis, and then the CPI for "all goods and services" in the DC area is used to update the fees. (US Attorney's Office, District of Columbia 2005)

One court, The District Court for the District of Columbia, has instead ruled that it is more appropriate to utilize an adjusted Adjusted Laffey Matrix. See McDowell v. District of Columbia, Civ. A. No. 00-594 (RCL), LEXSEE 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8114 (D.D.C. June 4, 2001)

The Third Circuit Court of Federal Appeals adopted the Adjusted Laffey Matrix. Interfaith Community Organization v. Honeywell International, Inc., 426 F.3d 694 (3rd Cir. 2005). ("In updating the matrix to account for inflation from 1989-2003, ICO relied on the legal services component of the nationwide Consumer Price Index (“the Legal Services Index”), a measure of inflation in the cost of legal services maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics."). The Court of Appeals noted that the District Court "reviewed both indices [the DOJ Matrix and the Adjusted Laffey Matrix] and decided that [the Adjusted Laffey Matrix] represented a better measure of prevailing rates in Washington, DC. In so doing, it relied on a decision by the District Court for the District of Columbia, Salazar v. District of Columbia, 123 F.Supp.2d 8 (D.D.C.2000), which compared the U.S. Attorney's Laffey Matrix with a matrix similar to that put forward by ICO in this case and concluded that the latter method was superior. Salazar is one of the few decisions approving the use of this approach, and it is, according to ICO, the only decision (prior to the District Court decision in this case) comparing the two approaches."

The Fourth Circuit expressly disapproved reliance on the Laffey Matrix in Robinson v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, 560 F.3d 235 (4th Cir. 2009), requiring instead that fee awards be based on prevailing market rates established by evidence.

Some California Federal courts have accepted the same methodology, adjusting the Laffey Matrix upwards based upon the higher costs of living in Los Angeles and other California cities. In Re HPL Technologies, Inc. Securities Litigation, 366 F.Supp.2d 912, 921 (N. Dist. Cal. 2005). See also “It is the practice of the undersigned judge, however, to rely on official data to determine appropriate hourly rates, not on an attorney's self-proclaimed rates or declarations regarding hourly rates charged by law firms. One reliable official source for rates that vary by experience levels is the Laffey matrix used in the District of Columbia.” Garnes v. Barnhardt, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5938 (N. Dist. Cal. 2006).

Other courts have rejected the Adjusted Laffey Matrix, particularly for cases in the Washington-Baltimore region, and instead continue to rely on the original Laffey Matrix (also known as the USAO Laffey Matrix). See, e.g., Pleasants v. Ridge, 424 F. Supp. 2d 67, n.2 (D.D.C. 2006) and Judicial Watch, Inc. v. BLM, No. 07-1570, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49069.

Despite the initial appeal of using a consumer price index for legal services to update the hourly rates for legal services, closer examination reveals the inappropriateness of it in many cases. The Legal Services component of the National CPI measures price changes in simple legal services used by household consumers, such as basic wills, uncontested divorces, power of attorneys and DWI defenses. Prices for business related services and complex litigation cases are excluded from the index. Contingency fees such as those that are commonly used in litigation settings are not taken into account since they are not relevant to these basic consumer legal services. To determine prices, the BLS contacts practicing attorneys and records prices for a defined “procedure” (such as an uncontested divorce) rather than an hourly unit of an attorney’s or paralegal’s time. Discounted fees are not incorporated into the data unless the contacted attorney routinely gives one for a specific service. The US CPI for Legal Services is not specific to Washington, DC, and so a national price index to update regional rates is also problematic. For these reasons many courts and expert economists continue to rely on the original Laffey Matrix for litigation cases in the DC area. See, for example, affidavit of Dr. Laura A. Malowane in Norden v. Clough, No. 05-1231 (RMC) (D.D.C.)


"The initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee "—the so-called lodestar fee--" [sic] is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Sexcius v. District of Columbia, 839 F. Supp. 919, 921 (D.D.C. 1993) [*4] (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984)) aff'd Covington v. District of Columbia, 313 U.S. App. D.C. 16, 57 F.3d 1101 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (Covington II ). Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983).

Normally, a prevailing party must establish a reasonable hourly rate, usually with affidavits and other evidence of the market rate. Kling v. Department of Justice, MSPB Dkt. No. AT075299048 (July 22, 1980)). “Affidavits are a particularly appropriate means of establishing the reasonableness of the amount of fees claimed. Kling, supra. A reasonable hourly rate may also be established by affidavits from other attorneys in the community with similar experience stating the rates that they charge fee-paying clients in similar cases. See Montreuil v. Department of the Air Force, 55 M.S.P.R. 685, 690-91 (1992) (citing Swanson v. Defense Logistics Agency, 35 M.S.P.R. 115, 119 (1987)).

In addition to affidavits and prior fee settlements, the Laffey Matrix is very useful as a guide to Market Rate attorney fees for the Baltimore / Washington area. The Laffey Matrix has been cited as good evidence of the Market Rate for attorneys practicing in federal employment arbitration matters. See Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration and AFGE, 93 FLRR 1-4011 (1993); Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Washington, DC and NTEU, 93 FLRR 1-1283, 48 FLRA No. 100, 48 FLRA 931 (1993); Hatfield v. Garrett, 90 FEOR 1046 (EEOC 1989).Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354, 371 (D.D.C. 1983); Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1525 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (en banc).

Regarding the “updated version of the Laffey matrix,” the Court in McDowell v. District of Columbia, Civ. A. No. 00-594 (RCL), LEXSEE 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8114 (D.D.C. June 4, 2001) stated in part:

"Plaintiffs may point to such [*9] evidence as an updated version of the Laffey matrix or the U.S. Attorney's Office matrix, or their own survey" to demonstrate the prevailing market rates in the community. n5 Covington II, 57 F.3d at 1109. Moreover, the plaintiffs may supplement any matrix that has been offered with "evidence of recent fees awarded by the court." Id. "Finally, the defendants may challenge plaintiff attorneys' market data, in an effort to show that the submitted market rates are inaccurate." Id. at 1110; see also Covington v. District of Columbia, 839 F. Supp. 894, 898 (D.D.C. 1993) (Covington I) (permitting defendants a chance to persuade court on what prevailing market rates are) aff'd Covington II, 313 U.S. App. D.C. 16, 57 F.3d 1101; Cf. Oil and Chemical Workers, 2001 WL 427287, at *7 (allowing the defendant to propose alternate methods of compensation for attorneys who did not meet the other factors for receiving compensation).

n5 The matrix may be found in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983)

Here, while the plaintiffs do not give an updated Laffey matrix, they do cite the matrix. n6 (Plaintiffs' Motion for fees at 3). Moreover, plaintiffs also supplement their motion by presenting cases that show an increase in the Laffey scale. For example, the plaintiffs attached Dorsett to show an increase of fees to $ 280 per hour. (Plaintiffs' Unpublished Cases); Dorsett v. District of Columbia, No. 00- 212, slip op. (D.D.C. Sep. 12, 2000). The plaintiffs also included Wingfield to justify a fee award of $ 335 per hour. n7 (Plaintiffs' Notice of Supp. Case); Wingfield v. District of Columbia, No. 00-121, slip op. at 6 (D.D.C. Apr. 13, 2001). Finally, recent cases such as Salazar have justified an award of $ 444 per hour and $ 369 per hour based on an updated version of the Laffey matrix. Salazar v. District of Columbia, 123 F. Supp. 2d 8, 13 (D.D.C. 2000).”

The Court in Salazar approved an updated version of the Laffey matrix, which is provided as Exhibit 1 hereto. The Laffey matrix is computed by multiplying a base hourly rate by an Adjustment Factor. The updated Laffey matrix uses more accurate, recent base hourly rates and a more accurate Adjustment Factor. The updated Laffey matrix has been cited with approval. See, e.g., McDowell v. District of Columbia, Civ. A. No. 00-594 (RCL), LEXSEE 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8114 (D.D.C. June 4, 2001) citing Salazar v. District of Columbia, 123 F. Supp. 2d 8, 13 (D.D.C. 2000).

Alternative laffey matrix[edit]

Primarily advocated by the economist Michael Kavanaugh The Alternative Laffey Matrix (utilizing the LSC CPI) is one measure for hourly rates for federal administrative proceedings. Usually, if no normative billing rate is available for attorneys, a reasonable hourly rate can be established by affidavits, past awards or evidence of reasonable rates in the community such as the Adjusted Laffey Matrix.

In Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, 241 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984), the D.C. Circuit devised a matrix that established a standard hourly rate for attorneys in “the Baltimore-Washington area.” See Elouise Pepion Cobell, V. Gale A. Norton, Secretary of the Interior, Civil Action Number 96-1285 (RCL), 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21726 (D.C.Cir. November 12, 2002). The D.C. Circuit has since declared that updated versions of the matrix, which adjust the rates annually for inflation, may be relied on as evidence of the prevailing market rate for attorneys in the community. Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109.

Opposing economists' opinions[edit]

Laura Malowane of Economists Incorporated is an economist with a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She believes that the Alternative Laffey Matrix and its use of the Legal Services Index is inferior to the original USAO Laffey Matrix for the following reasons: 1) The US Legal Index measures prices changes in basic, personal, consumer-oriented legal services such as uncontested divorce and DUi and not complex federal litigation; 2) The US Legal Index is a nationwide average index and not specific to the D.C. metropolitan region; 3) The US Legal Index is primarily for flat-fee services rather than hourly rates; 4) The US Legal Index does not take into account discounted rates, contingency fees, and other reasons actual collected rates may differ from hourly billing rates; and 5) Actual hourly billing rates of attorneys in the Washington, D.C. area are, according to published survey data, more accurately represented by rates outlined in the USAO Laffey Matrix than in the Alternative Laffey Matrix.

Michael Kavanaugh is an economist from Batavia, Ohio. He is the economist credited by the D.C. Circuit in the Salazar case. His explanation of the advantages of the Alternative Laffey Matrix is as follows:

The Laffey matrix was updated to 1988-1989 rates in connection with the Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (en banc) litigation. The Consumer Price Index for U.S. City Average, Legal Service Fees (“Legal Services Index”) maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics is a better measure of the change in prices for legal services in Washington, D.C., than the Consumer Price Index for Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, All Items (“DC Metro CPI”). He has reviewed both the update to the Laffey matrix which uses the Legal Services Index to bring 1988-1989 rates forward to present, and the update referred to as the United States Attorneys’ Office Laffey matrix, which utilizes the DC Metro CPI to bring 1981-1982 rated forward to present.

Both the Legal Services Index and the DC Metro CPI are readily available and are maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The underlying data are collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau as part of its quinquennial census and its annual surveys. Economists use as specific an index as possible to determine changes in prices in a part of an industry, such as here changes of prices in legal services in the Baltimore- Washington area. To measure changes in an industry’s prices, it is far preferable to use a specific index rather than a broad index.

The Legal Services Index is a national index that includes the metropolitan Baltimore- Washington, D.C., area. Adjusting the Laffey matrix with a national index assumes that the rate of change of prices for legal services is about the same everywhere. This is not the same thing as prices being the same everywhere. Even if prices differ in different places, the rate of change in prices is likely to be about the same. With resource mobility and the ability to communicate easily over distances, this is a plausible assumption. While it is possible for prices for the same good or service to change at different rates in different places, this is most likely to happen for goods or services for which there is only a local market because their transport is expensive relative to their value (e.g., fast food) or because communication is difficult.

Dr. Kavanaugh prefers his Laffey index to the United States Attorneys’ Office Laffey matrix for an additional reason. The Adjusted Laffey matrix updated is based on observations from 1988–1989, whereas the United States Attorneys’ Office Laffey matrix uses 1981-1982 rates as a base. In general, the more contemporary the observations, the less possibility exists for forecasting errors. Thus, the Adjusted Laffey matrix is more likely to be an accurate forecast of rates because it applies an index to more recent observations to bring rates forward to the present as contrasted to the United States Attorneys’ Office Laffey matrix which uses an index to bring forward much earlier observations.

Another method is to adjust for local costs of wages to lawyers and paralegals. The Laffey Matrix can be adjusted for local costs using the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on wages paid to lawyers (occupation code 23-1011) and paralegals (occupation code 23-2011) for primary metropolitan statistical areas in each state (

Here is what the hourly rate Matrix looks like for June 1, 2006 to May 31, 2007 for D.C., 5 cities in California, Hartford, CT and New York City (NYC) after adjustments are made for local labor costs.

Experience    D.C.   Sacramento San Francisco Los Angeles Orange County San Diego Hartford   NYC 
20+ years $425 $323 $434 $434 $434 $361 $378 $421
11–19 years $375 $285 $383 $383 $383 $319 $334 $371
8–10 years $305 $232 $311 $311 $311 $259 $271 $302
4–7 years $245 $186 $250 $250 $250 $208 $218 $243
1–3 years $205 $156 $209 $209 $209 $174 $182 $203
Paralegals $120 $113 $134 $118 $146 $115 $118 $121

This will need to be adjusted when the May CPI figures are available and the Laffey Matrix is updated by the administrators, based upon DOL BLS new wage data available, usually in early July of each year.


See also[edit]