LEVIN H. CAMPBELL, Circuit Judge.
This is an appeal from the award of $4,000 in attorney's fees to Mitchell B. King, Jr. whose civil rights suit to improve his conditions of confinement at the treatment center for the sexually dangerous at MCI Bridgewater culminated in two June 1974 consent decrees in his favor. On October 29, 1974, several months after the matter was concluded, the district court awarded $4,000 to King's attorney "[f]or ten hours in court and seventy hours of preparation" at a rate of $50 per hour. Defendants — state officials acting in their official capacities — appealed but thereafter withdrew their appeal by permission of this court to seek clarification of the district court's order. While the motion to clarify was before the district court, we decided Souza v. Travisono, 512 F.2d 1137 (1st Cir.), vacated, 423 U.S. 809, 96 S.Ct. 19, 46 L.Ed.2d 29 (1975). In light of that decision, the district court on April 18, 1975, modified its earlier order and awarded $1,964 to reflect the $30 per in-court hour and $20 per out-of-court hour rate of the Criminal Justice Act of 1964, 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(d)(1). The appeal from this second order was pending when the Supreme Court decided Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y., 421 U.S. 240, 95 S.Ct. 1612, 44 L.Ed.2d 141 (1975), and on July 15, 1975, we remanded to the district court for reconsideration in view of Alyeska. Because a decision by another judge on substantially the same issue was anticipated, both parties suggested that the district court stay further action. As a result, the case lay dormant until December 22, 1976 when appellee moved that this court revoke its July 15, 1975 remand order on the ground that the order had been mooted by the recently enacted Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976, Pub.L.No. 94-559, 90 Stat. 2641 (amending 42 U.S.C. § 1988). We denied the motion without prejudice to the district court's giving consideration to the Act's applicability. The district court directed the defendants to show cause why the original $4,000 fee award should not be imposed. After taking briefs on the issue, by order of February 17, 1977, it allowed compensation in the amount of $4,000 incorporating by reference the original October 29, 1974, order, all other proceedings in the district court and this court, and the briefs of the parties in response to the show cause order. The appeal from the February order was consolidated with the prior appeals.
The question is whether "reasonable attorney's fees" as provided by the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 (the Fees Act)
When we decided Souza there was no statute authorizing "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs" in cases brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The lack of authoritative guidance, the bar's traditional duty to assist in public service litigation regardless of fee, and our concern with possible excessiveness, all dictated a cautious approach. The conservative Criminal Justice Act rates which, while below the going marketplace rates had the imprimatur of legislative approval, seemed most appropriate at the time. Passage of the Fees Act has, however, rendered obsolete the considerations underlying Souza. Not only has Congress now provided for attorney's fees awards in civil rights cases, the Act's legislative history leaves no doubt that Congress intended not only that the fees be adequate enough to "attract competent counsel"
What constitutes a reasonable attorney's fee in a particular case shall rest within the sound discretion of the district court, see Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717 (5th Cir. 1974). We shall, however, expect a court to adhere carefully to certain general criteria in making a discretionary award under the Fees Act.
The Fifth Circuit's decision in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., supra, was cited with approval in the legislative history of the Fees Act and in decisions of the Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits.
As a starting point the attorney or attorneys must submit to the court a detailed record of the time spent on the case and the duties performed. See Stanford Daily v. Zurcher, 64 F.R.D. 680, 682 (N.D.Cal. 1974), aff'd, 550 F.2d 464 (9 Cir. 1977). The court must secure from the attorneys a full and specific accounting for their time; bills which simply list a certain number of hours and lack such important specifics as dates and the nature of the work performed during the hour or hours in question should be refused. Furthermore, "[a]n attorney's record of time is not a talisman", Rainey v. Jackson State College, 551 F.2d 672, 677 (5th Cir. 1977); the district court should scrutinize it with care.
Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., supra, 488 F.2d at 717.
Once the time and labor required have been fully evaluated, the district court should apply the relevant Johnson criteria in arriving at a reasonable fee. In so doing, it would be helpful for the court to set out in the record the basis for the award and any pertinent findings of fact. See, e. g., Stanford Daily v. Zurcher, supra. Care obviously should be taken to avoid excessive fees. The "normal" per hour rate in a locale is itself an artificial construct. Actual bills will frequently be lower, sometimes much lower, than that rate might indicate; on exceptional occasions they may however exceed it. While the modest Criminal Justice Act rates might allow a more mechanical application, an assumed marketplace rate is never to be applied across the board
There remains the question of the disposition of the matter before us. We have reviewed the record with care and conclude that the $4,000 award was reasonable under the Johnson criteria. The case involved important issues; the results were distinctly beneficial and peculiarly dependent upon the work of counsel; and there are findings that the attorney performed with commendable diligence and ability. While the court used a $50 an hour yardstick, it appears that more than 80 hours was actually spent by the attorney; we are satisfied that the award was not computed mechanically and that it reflects an appropriate sensitivity to relevant considerations. Bearing in mind that the fees issue has remained unresolved since 1974, we believe it both unnecessary and unduly burdensome to remand to the district court for yet a further round of consideration. We therefore affirm.
Disciplinary Rule 2-106(B) provides: