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Class Counsel Seek $4.3M in Fees in ERISA Settlement

August 17, 2021 | Posted in : Contingency Fees / POF, Expenses / Costs, Fee Award Factors, Fee Request, Hourly Rates, Hours Billled, Practice Area: Civil Rights / Public Interest, Practice Area: Class Action / Mass Tort / MDL, Settlement Data / Terms

A recent Law 360 story by Rachel Stone, “Columbia Workers’ Counsel Want $4.3M For ERISA Deal”, reports that a class of Columbia University workers and retirees asked a New York federal court for $4.3 million in attorney fees after reaching a $13 million settlement resolving claims that the university saddled their retirement plans with exorbitant fees and bad investments.  In the memorandum, the class of retirement plan beneficiaries argued that the attorney's request for the "market rate," or one-third of the settlement fund for class counsel Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP, was reasonable, citing the complexity and risks of taking the case on a contingent fee basis.

"Class counsel leveraged their considerable experience in excessive fee litigation to achieve an efficient resolution of this matter, thereby avoiding the expense of a lengthy jury trial and substantial risk of nonrecovery," the memorandum said.  The class also argued that this attorney fee award would encourage more firms to take on similar cases in the public interest, which, like this case, further the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's goals of safeguarding workers' retirements.

Schlichter Bogard spearheaded a slate of cases against universities claiming their retirement funds charged beneficiaries too-high fees under ERISA, according to the memorandum.  The firm "retained the same level of commitment in each excessive fee case — to take the case as far as needed, appeal if necessary, invest whatever expenses were required and carry those expenses for potentially a decade or more," the class said.

The memorandum also referenced the class counsel's "extensive" discovery process to support their request for attorney fees. In total, the firm spent more than 15,000 hours on the case, sifting through more than 350,000 documents, deposing the named plaintiffs and dozens of others, according to the memorandum.  Plus, the class argued, ERISA matters are notoriously complicated.  The class also asked the court for nearly $640,000 in litigation expenses and $25,000 for each of the seven named plaintiffs who "risked their reputations and alienation from employers" in bringing suit against Columbia.