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History of the Laffey Matrix

The Laffey Matrix originated in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, 572 F. Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983), reversed, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984), overruled, Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1525 (D.C. Cir. 1988)(en banc).  Daniel Rezneck, then of Arnold & Porter, compiled evidence from firms showing the market rates in the District of Columbia for complex federal litigation.  That evidence was analyzed and a matrix of rates for attorneys at various experience levels was created, later becoming known as the Laffey Matrix.  Rezneck submitted an affidavit with the evidence in the Laffey case. 

The Rezneck affidavit and evidence shows that the Laffey Matrix accounts for firm size to the extent that it might be relevant to establishing the prevailing market rates for complex federal litigation.  In addition to larger firms – e.g., Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling, and Steptoe & Johnson – the following were included in the Laffey Matrix evidence:

Attorney or Firm
in Laffey Exhibit
Firm Size from 1982 Listing
in Martindale-Hubbell
Law Directory
(Including Members, Associates
and Of Counsel)
Page in 1982
Martindale-Hubbell
Law Directory
Caplin & Drysdale 35 1162B – 1166B
Ewald, Thomas R. Sole Practitioner 1311B
Hahn, Gilbert T.
(Wolf, Amram & Hahn)
6 2048B – 2049B
McDonald, Bradley G. Sole Practitioner 1630B
Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin 17 1654B - 1656B
Miller & Chevalier 57 1657B - 1662B
Nussbaum, Owen & Webster 11 1687B - 1688B
Seymour, Samuel
(Seymour, Seefried & Hoffman in 1982)
4 1836B

Based on Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886 (1984), the district court in Laffey expressly rejected the use of the size or type of the law firm in setting hourly rates.  Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., supra, 572 F. Supp. at 374.  In awarding fees based on what has come to be known as the Laffey Matrix, the district court rejected one of the defendant’s challenges to the matrix, stating (ibid.):

Defendant’s comparison of counsels’ actual hourly rates with the rates of other labor law firms of similar size simply misses the mark.

In spite of Blum, the court of appeals rejected this determination when it rejected use of the matrix in favor of the firm’s actual billing rate, thus restricting fee awards to small firms, such as the counsel in Laffey, to their own reduced billing rates.  Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, supra, 746 F.2d at 24-25.  Four  years later, in Save Our Cumberland Mountains, the court of appeals en banc overruled that decision (857 F.2d at 1524):

Congress did not intend the private but public-spirited rate-cutting attorney to be penalized for his public spiritedness by being paid on a lower scale than either his higher priced fellow barrister from a more established firm or his salaried neighbor at a legal services clinic.

In short, we conclude that our prior decision in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., and the panel decision in this case, which it compelled, are both inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Blum v. Stenson which construed those statutes.  We therefore expressly overrule Laffey to the extent that it imposes the above discussed different method of determining reasonable attorney fees on attorneys situated as Yablonski and Galloway are here.  Henceforth, the prevailing market rate method heretofore used in awarding fees to traditional for-profit firms and public interest legal services organizations shall apply as well to those attorneys who practice privately and for profit but at reduced rates reflecting non-economic goals.

Thus, type of practice and overhead considerations are irrelevant in the setting of hourly rates for firms that have opted to practice as “public-spirited rate-cutting attorney[s].”

The original Laffey Matrix provided market rates for the period from June 1, 1981, through May 31, 1982.  The matrix was updated through May 31, 1989, at the urging of the court of appeals in its en banc decision in Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, supra, 857 F.2d at 1525, in connection with a settlement reached on remand in that case.  See Trout v. Ball, 705 F. Supp. 705, 709, n. 10 (D.D.C. 1989)(the updated matrix developed in Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel “does provide an updated and accurate schedule of attorney fees in this District”); Salazar v. the District of Columbia (Salazar I), 123 F. Supp. 2d 8, 13 (D.D.C. 2000). The LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix uses the 1989 update of the matrix as its starting point.   Click here for information regarding the 1989 update. 

The United States Attorney’s Office also started an update of the Laffey Matrix, which became known as the USAO Matrix or the USAO Laffey Matrix.  The USAO uses the local Consumer Price Index (CPI) to update the 1982 version of the Laffey Matrix.  The CPI measures the goods and services consumed by ordinary citizens on a regular basis, including food, housing, and fuel.  Although the CPI includes legal services, 99.7% of the index involves other consumer items that do not relate to the rate of price change for legal services.  In contrast, the LSI only involves the rate of price change for various kinds of legal services.

The USAO, the District of Columbia, and other defendants routinely argue that the USAO Laffey Matrix is a better reflection of market rates in the District of Columbia because it is local and the LSI is national.  However, the briefing and evidence prepared by Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP demonstrates that the LSI is a better reflection of the market for complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia.  The briefing and evidence shows that the LSI is the more appropriate index because: (1) it is specific to legal services; (2) it is national, but so is the D.C. market for complex federal litigation; (3) its rate of change is below, but more closely aligned with, the rate of change in market rates in D.C.; and (4) it produces rates that are below, but more closely aligned with, market data than the CPI-Updated USAO Matrix.  The evidence also shows that the expansion of the geographical reach of the CPI to West Virginia and Baltimore counties as well as more rural counties in Virginia and Maryland significantly dilutes the CPI’s rate of price change for D.C.

Click here for the rates evidence and briefs.


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