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How law firms can win fee hearings in Florida probates

Uncategorized Dec 9, 2015
post about How law firms can win fee hearings in Florida probates

Probate lawyers Florida seem to fall into two camps. There are those who are used to, and quite confident and comfortable with, contested fee hearings.  You know, when an estate law firm West Palm Beach files a motion for fees and someone such as a beneficiary or other may oppose it.  Such a hearing is really a trial on the probate attorneys fees, what some estate lawyers refer to as an evidentiary hearing.  OK.  The other camp is a bunch of estate attorneys who are not really comfortable in a contested motion or hearing.  They like to just go in and argue before the probate court, and are less comfortable trying to introduce evidence, examine witnesses, and perhaps less familiar with the rules of procedure for how probate courts conduct fee hearings.  Regardless, if you a probate law firm West Palm Beach, and you find yourself in front of a judge on a fee hearing or a motion for attorneys fees, do you know the proper procedure and what evidence is admissible or not admissible? Do you know how to prove your fees? Consider reading this November 25, 2015 Florida 4th DCA appeals court opinion, MIA Real Holdings LLC v. Nolan, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D 2632, which is not a probate case but very good for attorneys fee hearings and hearsay, as well as Florida evidence and Chapter 90, the Evidence Code.  Here is a copy of the appellate opinion on this fee case and hearsay case: http://4dca.org/opinions/Nov.%202015/11-25-15/4D14-4371.op.pdf

What do I have to prove to get attorneys fees in a Florida probate case?

  • Do you know what witnesses from your law firm you must call as a witness for your fee hearing?
  • Are your billing statements or invoices prepared? Did you actually track your time as services were rendered for the estate or your client or did you not input your time into billing software, and are now “reconstructing” your time or legal services rendered?  Hmm….. do you think that you’ll be cross examined about that?
  • Who at your probate law firm Florida will be able to “get” those invoices into evidence?
  • After all, you just can’t throw them at the court, right? Someone, a witness, has to lay a foundation of personal knowledge about those invoices, and fee statements, to demonstrate understanding and personal involvement with the information, like billing information, hourly rates of lawyers, and entries which you are seeking attorneys fees for.
  • Are you familiar with what standards you have to meet to have the court rule that your fees and hourly rates are “reasonable?”
  • Are you familiar with Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5 and the Rowe case?
  • Is your testimony ready to introduce facts which comply with the principles in this legal authority?
  • (In short, do you know what you are doing or are you trying to wing it?)
  • And, we all know, right, that your probate litigation attorney Florida just can’t start talking and arguing on your behalf, correct?
  • After all, “argument of counsel” is never evidence, and a judge needs evidence.
  • Do you know how to get needed documents and invoices into evidence?
  • Do you know why an affidavit won’t work?
  • Ready for any hearsay objections? Have you anticipated them, and know how to get around them?
  • Well, you can read this recent Florida appeals court case on attorneys fees where the 4th DCA reduced the attorneys fees by 66% because of the evidence, or should I say , the lack of the evidence.
  • This case also considered the business records exception to the Florida hearsay rule and who a “qualified witness” was.
  • How are those records or law firm invoices and billing statements created?
  • Who has knowledge of those entries on the firm billing statements?
  • Were the entries on the legal services bills entered at the same time as the services were rendered?  Contemporaneously?
  • Do you understand why a fact sheet or summary prepared by someone at y our firm, based on computer notes, or other notes, might be EXCLUDED from the evidence?
  • Do you know who the records custodian is at your firm and why that person may be the most important person to testify?
  • I guess the next logical question to ask is : what if you are fighting a motion for attorneys fees in some Palm Beach probate?
  • Do you know how to attack a motion for fees in an estate, or do you know what you can do to oppose letting another side get attorneys fees in a Boca Raton probate?