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Out-of-town attorneys get dinged on fees

In a hat tip to local lawyers, a federal judge recently pushed back against the stratospheric fees some out-of-town attorneys charge by scaling back a high-flying legal team’s take-home pay.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson’s motion rulings are part of auto-glass and claims management company Safelite Group Inc.’s lawsuit against the Minnesota Commerce Department.

The court ruled against the department in that case, voiding some of its regulatory requirements and an enforcement action against a Safelite network vendor, AAA. Later, a team of Safelite attorneys filed motions for fees and expenses, as allowed by state statute. One of those attorneys was Jay Lefkowitz, a New York partner at Kirkland & Ellis who once was a Bush administration human rights envoy.

Nelson denied Commerce’s request to trim the 194 hours billed by the three firms to prepare oral arguments on motions for a preliminary injunction and summary judgment in the case. Commerce wanted the hours limited to 20 per motion.

“It was a pretty breathtaking amount of hours and to me hard to fathom,” said Seth Leventhal, a local business litigator and blogger who has written about the case. “But she took them at their word and awarded them for their time, as reported.”

However, Nelson significantly cut the team’s legal fees and expenses to something approaching what Safelite might have paid had it hired all-local counsel. Instead of the requested $1.967 million, Nelson granted the lawyers just under $942,000.

Leventhal said the decision, while mixed, was generally favorable to local lawyers. “I would characterize it as a relatively generous and respectful understanding of the work that lawyers do,” he said.

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