On appeal from Board of Review, Department of Labor and Industry.
Matthews, Pressler and Petrella.
Plaintiff law firm challenges an award of $500 as a counsel fee in an unemployment compensation case on the basis of it being inadequate in relation to the time expended. Their client, then appearing pro se , had been denied unemployment compensation by the Division of Employment Security of the Department of Labor and Industry and that decision had been affirmed by the Appeal Tribunal.
On appeal to the Board of Review plaintiff agreed to represent claimant and she paid plaintiff an initial retainer of $500. Plaintiff agreed on an attorney's authorization form that, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-15(b) and N.J.A.C. 12:20-5.4(c), it would "not charge or receive for [its] services more than an amount approved by the Board of Review." Any fees paid would be borne by the client.
After a hearing the Board of Review set aside the Appeal Tribunal's decision and ruled claimant eligible for past-due
unemployment benefits of $3,744. Plaintiff requested that the Board of Review approve a counsel fee of $1,500 for 30 hours and 15 minutes of services rendered between June 27, 1977 and March 10, 1978 in connection with the appeal to the Board. It advised the Board of Review that in addition to the initial retainer it had received a subsequent payment of $750.
The Board of Review, in accordance with guidelines set forth on the reverse side of the "Board of Review Attorney's Authorization" form, approved an attorney fee of $500. This, of course, meant that a refund would be due to claimant.
Plaintiff on this appeal argues that the Board of Review has no special expertise concerning legal services and the value thereof, and submits that a $50-an-hour fee is appropriate. The Board of Review publishes what constitutes its general guidelines for evaluating requests for approval for attorney's fees on the reverse side of the Attorney's Authorization form with a reference to the information on the bottom of the front page of that form. Printed on the reverse is the following:
In evaluating requests for approval of attorney fees, the purpose of the unemployment and disability benefits program -- to provide a measure of economic security for the beneficiaries thereof -- is considered, together with the following factors:
1. The services performed (including type of service);
2. The complexity of the case;
3. The amount of time spent on ...