Caveat Emptor – Legal Buyer Beware

In December 2011, Debra Cassens Weiss posted an article on the ABA Journal website titled Suit by Fired Lawyer Claims Law Firm Encouraged Fraud with 3000-Hour Billable Quota.  The article reported on a California lawyer’s employment bias law suit alleging he was fired for failing to meet the firm’s 3,000 billable hour per year quota.  See http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/suit_by_fired_lawyer_claims_law_firms_3000-hour_billable_quotas_encouraged_

While the article is interesting, the over 140 comments that followed is the real story for legal consumers.  Most of the comments appear to come from lawyers.  A close reading of the attorney comments offers legal consumers a peek into certain attorneys’ beliefs and attitudes.  Some argue that an attorney cannot bill every minute they are in the office and to do so is billing fraud, while others say they can and it’s not fraud.  There is also talk among the lawyers about professional ethics.

Legal consumers should pay extra attention to the number of comments where attorneys admit that fraudulent billing goes on and talk about the pressures to do so.  See Comment #28 and #29.  For example, see Comment #83 by “Duxx”:

. . . I routinely billed 2700- 2800 hours a year and that was pushing it.  Were all those hours “legit”.  probably not.  It was stop watch billing.  I sat down at 1 pm with a transcript, stopped reading at 4:30.  I billed three and a half hours.  Did I account for the calls that interrupted me during that time, no; the bathroom breaks, no; the time to get up and stretch my legs……..    It all adds up.  Billing in tenths of an hour helps because if you breeze through the morning mail and read 6 letters for 6 different matters in 15 minutes, you get to bill 6 clients an aggregate hour.  You then have 45 minutes to work on a brief for another client.  An hour in real time results in 1:50 (rounded up) in [b]illable time. . . .

Although “Duxx’s” arithmetic is incorrect — six billing entries of one tenth of an hour is 36 minutes, not one hour — it is his admitted practice of billing more to a given client then time actually spent of which legal consumers should take note.  Also of note is Comment #54 by “Tom,” who as a client, apparently an institutional one, compared attorney bills on separate cases and noted billing based on the type of entry and not based on time spent.  As “Tom” states,

. . . I used to receive invoices showing that some attorneys were billing me 19-22 hours per day for court appearances on different claims.  That’s a neat trick when the court is only open for 9 hours.  This is standard practice for these firms and they get away with it because they are screwing different clients on different claims so it is difficult to trace. . . .

Although there are many of the 147 comments worthy of note, for legal consumers, Comment #95 by “Economist” sums it up:

I’m not an attorney, but I have worked with many.  In my experience, there are a few ethical attorneys who do great work and submit honest billings.  They are worth their weight in gold.  However, the vast majority of attorneys I’ve worked with do shoddy work and way overbill. . . . There are a few good ones, but they are rare.  Fraud/incompetence is the norm … sorry to say.

Just as “Economist” states, there are good attorneys, and LPR applauds them.  But the reality for legal consumers is that not all attorneys are created equal — they are not all honest and are not all competent.  There is a term used widely in the law, caveat emptor, which means let the buyer beware.  Dear legal consumers . . . beware.

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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