Attorney fee awards under a major federal fee-shifting statute are paid to the client, not to the attorney, and can be offset to pay a client’s debt to the federal government, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The Court’s decision in Astrue v. Ratliff (pdf) will affect primarily lawyers and law clinics who successfully represent clients seeking Social Security or veterans benefits and who earn fee awards under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

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