“Borrowing Time” and Other Deceptive Practices

Former insurance defense lawyer Douglas Richmond has written several scholarly articles on the subjects of attorney ethics and legal billing.   In Professional Responsibilities of Law Firm Associates, 45 Brandeis L. J. 199 (Winter 2007), Richmond expresses the view that attorneys who overbill often will rationalize away their deceptions to clients that what they are doing is not stealing, but is “borrowing.”  Richmond writes that

“Maybe you will bill a client for ninety minutes for a task that really took you only sixty minutes to perform.  However, you will promise yourself that you will repay the client at the first opportunity by doing thirty minutes of the work for the client for ‘free.’ . . . . And then what will happen is that it will becomes easier to take these little loans against future work.  And then, after a while, you will top paying back these little loans. . . . You will continue to rationalize your dishonesty to yourself in various ways until one day you stop even doing that.  And, before long . . . you will be stealing from your clients almost every day, and you won’t even notice it.”

In my last post on “Attorney Ethical No-No’s in Billing for Services,” I ended with the question, “if you cannot trust your attorney to correctly bill you for their services, can you trust them on other issues?” If your lawyer tells you that she has tried and tried to reach opposing counsel to press settlement, is she telling you the truth or is she deceiving you? Continue reading

Attorney Ethical “No-No’s” in Billing for Services

According to the Comments to Rule 1.5 in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (6th ed.), here are some ethical “no-no’s” that lawyers can be disciplined for when it comes to billing for their services:

  • Bill Padding
  • Double Billing
  • Fees for Doing Nothing
  • Fees for Doing Very Little
  • Doing Way Too Much
  • Doing Remedial Work
  • Too Many Lawyers Working on Matter

My favorite ethical no-no found in the Model Rules is this one: Doing Very Little, and Doing it Badly.

I do several presentations each year to bar groups and clorporate clients.  Whenever I post the ethical “no-no’s” on a slide, some of them always draw laughs from attorneys and non-attorneys alike. I also find some of them amusing. But I also find it a little sad that there is a need to actually tell lawyers in the ABA Model Rules that they should not pad ther bills.

In my private legal practice, I advise attorneys and law firms on ethics and professional responsibility.  I also serve on my state’s legal ethics hotline where I counsel attorneys on ethical matters.  I always tell lawyers that there are three things that will get them in the most trouble with the disciplinary authorities: doing drugs, having sex with a client, or messing with a client’s money. Continue reading