“Churn That Bill, Baby!”

So wrote a lawyer from DLA Piper, a prominent international law firm, in an email to another firm lawyer celebrating the assignment of “random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode . . .”

That same lawyer continues:

That bill shall know no limits.

And another:

I hear we are already 200K over our estimate – that’s Team DLA Piper!

On March 25, 2013, in an article titled Suit Offers a Peek at the Practice of Inflating a Legal Bill, Peter Lattman of The New York Times’ DealBook reported on this and other DLA Piper emails disclosed in a law suit between DLA Piper and Adam H. Victor, an executive in the energy industry.  The law suit is the result of a fee dispute between DLA Piper and Mr. Victor arising out of DLA Piper’s representation of Mr. Victor in the bankruptcy of one of his companies.  According to DealBook, DLA Piper sued Mr. Victor for $675,000 in unpaid legal bills, and Mr. Victor countersued for the firm’s “sweeping practice of overbilling.”

DealBook reported on March 26, 2013 that DLA Piper issued a memorandum to its attorneys decrying the emails written by “former” DLA Piper lawyers as “unprofessional” and an “unfortunate attempt at humor,” but maintaining that the billings were appropriate for the services rendered.

As for Mr. Victor, he added a fraud claim to his countersuit and a request for punitive damages – $22.5 million.

William G. Ross, a Samford University law professor specializing in billing ethics, surveyed approximately 250 lawyers in 2007.  More than half responded that their decision whether to do excessive or unnecessary work was influenced by the prospect of extra billables.  Professor Ross also found a problem with overstaffing:

 Lawyers sometimes conflate their own financial interests with the interests of the client who pays the bills.

Of course, most lawyers are ethical, but the billable hour creates perverse incentives.

So herein lies yet another cautionary tale for legal consumers.  It is rare indeed that lawyers would put in writing such seemingly incriminating words, and even more rare that those words would see the light of day.  That said, whether DLA Piper’s lawyers inappropriately billed Mr. Victor is yet to be seen, but any legal consumer who fails to even consider that their lawyer might overbill them is naive.

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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