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How does the court determine an appropriate amount of attorney’s fees?
The supreme court of Florida has ruled that the trial court should start with the “lodestar method” of determining an appropriate amount of attorney’s fees. Under this method, “the number of hours reasonably expended” is multiplied by “a reasonable hourly rate” Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So.2d at 699 (Fla. 1997). The number of hours “reasonably expended” on family law litigation depends on a multitude of factors, including: “the scope and history of the litigation; the duration of the litigation; the merits of the respective positions; whether the litigation is brought or maintained primarily to harass; and the existence and course of prior or pending litigation.” Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So.2d at 699 (Fla. 1997). Further, it should be noted the party in need of fees is entitled to an attorney of similar ability as the party in a superior financial position to ensure equality in the courtroom.
The “reasonable rate” also depend on a variety of factors, including: the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the issues and the legal skill required; the likelihood that the representation will preclude other employment by the lawyer; the customary fee; the result obtained; the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and, in some cases, which are rare in divorces or family law cases in Palm Beach County, the fixed or contingent nature of the fee.
Furthermore, in addition to the factors above, the “reasonable rate” will also depend upon the specialization and expertise of the attorney and the prevailing hourly rates in the community for the experience level of the attorney.