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Firm’s Fees Lowered for Charging Associate Rates for Law Clerk Work

A federal judge recently slashed the legal fees of a law firm that tried to charge its $200 per hour associate rate for work done by an attorney who did most of her case work before she was admitted to practice law.

Getman & Sweeney, a New Paltz law firm, asked for almost $138,000 in fees and expenses related to a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) class action on behalf of exotic dancers. “Western District Chief Judge William Skretny cut the amount to about $79,000.”

The case, Brown v. Mustang Sally’s Spirits and Grill, settled for $70,000, but the firm sought “statutory attorney fees at an out-of-district rate ranging from $550 per hour for a named partner to $135 per hour for paralegals.” In the Western District, the prevailing hourly rate for a partner is only $250 per hour for an FLSA class action.

Chief Judge Skretny said, “‘a reasonable, paying client would not pay the hourly rates’ requested by the Getman firm.” Instead, he reduced the partners, Dan Getman and Michael Sweeney, to $300 and $235 per hour, respectively, and lowered associate rates to $200-$150.

He went on to say it was “inappropriate” for the Getman firm to bill a $200 associate rate for the hours worked by a new associate, when “almost a third” of those hours were spent as a law clerk prior to being admitted.

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