As a member of my state bar’s “legal ethics hotline,” I get to hear about some really dumb things that otherwise smart attorneys do that wind up creating an ethical dilemma for the attorneys. Likewise as a reviewer of legal bills from throughout the U.S., I also get to see some really dumb things that otherwise smart attorneys wind up doing.
Brother, can you spare a dime?
One of the dumber things I have come across was an attorney who appealed a reduction for charging .20 per copy instead of charging .10 as the company billing guidelines required. In appealing the reduction, he wrote that his copy of the company’s guidelines did not mandate a .10 per copy rate. For support, he attached the guidelines to his appeal. Although the guidelines he attached were the old company guidelines, he was correct in that the guidelines did not require a charge of .10 for copies. What the old guidelines did mandate was that “in-house copies were non-reimbursable.” Oops!
But it’s only .50 hour for a file review (times 50 files).
For one firm that regularly handles 50 files or more for one insurer, I noted that the partner in charge of the insurer’s work always billed exactly .5 hours each month in each case to “review client documents discovery received to date, and plan for future handling.” She billed the same .5 hour for the same exact task each month even in files in which she was not handling attorney.
As attorney and legal billing expert Gerald Phillips noted in his article, Reviewing a Law Firm’s Billing Practices, ABA Prof. Lawyer (Fall 2001) at p. 10, “One does not work more often for a half-hour than for 20 or 40 minutes.” So the dead giveaway to the suspiciousness of this reoccurring billing entry is that the time billed each month for the same task is exactly .5 hour – even if there had been no activity in the file. The lesson to be learned here? If you are going to make up a task (or time), do not be dumb enough to put in the exact same time for the same task each month.
Billing twice, but for different amounts, for the same work.
Another lesson in creativity was from an attorney who sent in a “final” bill for his last 6 months’ worth of work on a case. In looking at the first two months’ worth of billing entries, it was discovered that he had already billed for that work. But in looking at the prior bills it was noted that the attorney had billed different amounts for many of the same tasks for which he was again seeking compensation. Was the attorney just being dumb or crooked or was he being both (a dumb crook)?
Who’s laughing now?
These and other similar incidents make it into my monthly reports to insurers for whom I review legal bills. With some incidents, I am sure that the company management gets a good laugh over them as do I. But maybe after the laughter subsides, they may began to wonder about the attorneys in question. If they are so careless in their bills to the company, do those attorneys also make dumb errors in the handling of their cases? Perhaps company managers will re-think sending those attorneys any more files.