Why Do So Many Lawyers False Bill?

Perhaps many lawyers false bill because they can get away with it.  Padding billable time, for example, has become so common that many lawyers don’t even consider it improper.

Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University among other credentials, recently published a book that may answer this question: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.  Here is a link: http://www.amazon.com/Honest-Truth-About-Dishonesty-Everyone-Especially/dp/0062183591  Dr. Ariely’s book is an eye-opening look at dishonesty and can shed a bright light on why lawyers false bill and how common place it has become.

Dr. Ariely includes in his book a letter he received from a young man who at that time, worked for an economic consulting firm providing economic analysis on a case for a law firm.  Here is a telling excerpt from the young man’s letter that appears on page 35 of the book:

The reason I decided to contact you is that I have been observing and participating in a very well documented phenomenon of overstating billable hours by economic consultants. To avoid sugar coating it, let’s call it cheating. From the most senior people all the way to the lowest analyst, the incentive structure for consultants encourages cheating: no one checks to see how much we bill for a given task; there are no clear guidelines as to what is acceptable; and if we have the lowest billability among fellow analysts, we are the most likely to get axed. These factors create the perfect environment for rampant cheating.

The lawyers themselves get a hefty cut of every hour we bill, so they don’t mind if we take longer to finish a project. While lawyers do have some incentive to keep costs down to avoid enraging clients, many of the analyses we perform are very difficult to evaluate. Lawyers know this and seem to use it to their advantage. In effect, we are cheating on their behalf; we get to keep our jobs and they get to keep an additional profit.

Dr. Ariely identifies lawyers as having “terrible conflicts of interest” because “they both make the recommendation and benefit [financially] from the service, while the client has no expertise or leverage.”  See page 93.  On page 95, Dr. Ariely advises:

[W]hen we face serious decisions in which we realize that the person giving us advice may be biased . . . we should spend just a little extra time and energy to seek a second opinion from a party that has no financial stake in the decision at hand.

Up to now, there have been few if any resources from which legal consumers could get a second opinion.  This is one of the reasons LPR was founded; we provide second opinions to legal consumers.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970. 

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