Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Billing Abuses of Lawyers

The Billing Abuses of Lawyers is a bit dated but just as relevant to today as when it was published. 

Some highlights:

Despite these extreme cases, lawyers -- with the notable exception of the high-visibility Hubbell, whose prosecution stemmed from the Whitewater investigation -- are rarely punished for billing abuses. Raleigh bankruptcy attorney Mark Kirby was indicted in federal court on 16 counts of billing fraud. Among other offenses, he billed 90 hours in one day. Between June 1990 and July 1991, Kirby billed a total of 13,000 hours, even though that 13-month period, calculated at 24 hours a day seven days a week, was only 9,500 hours long. Yet Kirby's trial resulted in a hung jury. His defense: everybody does it.

In 1991, Cumberland (Ala.) law professor William Ross surveyed 280 lawyers in private practice and 80 who worked in-house for companies. The results were shocking. Seven out of eight practicing lawyers said that it was ethical to bill a client for "recycled" work originally done for another client. Half said they had billed two different clients for work performed during the same time period, such as dictating a memo for one client while traveling for another.

Just as shocking were what lawyers concluded about their colleagues' billing practices: 55% said that lawyers occasionally or frequently "pad" their hours; 64% said they were personally aware of lawyers who had padded their bills. The in-house lawyers surveyed were even more clear: over 80% felt that the billable hour influenced how much time the outside lawyers they hired spent on a case, and 74% felt that the billable hour significantly decreased lawyers' incentives to work efficiently.

The reality is lawyers can make a lot of money for doing little work. Worse if such lawyers become judges, they feel it is their right to work far less than what they are paid for. 

As they say, money corrupts. 

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