Warning Against 'Padding,' Court Slashes Firm's Fees
With a stern reminder to the bar that "the padding of neither the bill nor the brief will be tolerated," a federal judge in Buffalo has dramatically slashed fees to a law firm that attempted to charge its $200-per-hour associate rate for labor done by an attorney who did much of her work on a case before she was admitted.
The New Paltz firm of Getman & Sweeney requested nearly $138,000 in fees and expenses for its efforts in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) class action on behalf of exotic dancers. Western District Chief Judge William Skretny (See profile) cut the amount to about $79,000.
Brown v. Mustang Sally's Spirits and Grill, 12-cv-529, settled for approximately $70,000 and the Getman firm sought statutory attorney fees at an out-of-district rate ranging from $550 per hour for a named partner to $135 for paralegals. In the Western District, the prevailing hourly rate for a partner is approximately $250 per hour for an FLSA class action, according to court papers.
Skretny said that while higher, out-of-district rates are appropriate in some cases, "a reasonable, paying client would not pay the hourly rates" requested by the Getman firm.
Skretny awarded the two partners, Dan Getman and Michael Sweeney, $300 and $235 per hour, respectively, while approving rates of $150 to $200 for associates.
Skretny said it was "inappropriate" for the firm to bill a $200 associate rate for the hours expended by a new associate, "particularly in light of the fact that almost a third" of the time she spent on the case was as a law clerk.
Getman represented his firm. The defendant was represented by Matthew Hoffer of Shafer & Associates of Lansing, Mich.