Don't Overbill Then Blame the System

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 23, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've all heard that one joke about the lawyer who dies young, goes to heaven, and is told by Saint Peter at the pearly gates of heaven that there must be some mix up as according to the lawyer's billing records, he's 200 years old.

But, with any luck, recent news about one bill-padding BigLaw lawyer might give other bill-padding lawyers pause. Apparently, after one partner was discovered adding in extra time by his firm (and not Saint Peter at the pearly gates), not only was he fired, but he has been outed publicly, has a pending ethics complaints, and is likely to end up having to pay back the firms that are paying back the clients that he overbilled.

Blaming the System

When it comes to billable hours, most lawyers are more generous than their clients will ever believe. However, there will always be that subset of lawyers who don't think it's a big deal (or that they will ever be caught trying) to tack on an extra 0.1 or 0.2 hours here and there. And while there are plenty of bad critiques about the billable hour system, intentionally padding time is not one of them. It's a problem that lawyers and law firms are prone to perpetuate because the system financially rewards that padding and puts clients at a severe disadvantage when it comes to sniffing out the problem.

Even when clerks and junior associates discover other associates and partners overbilling, speaking up isn't always the right move, especially if that lawyer or clerk plans to work for another law firm in the future.

In the recent news about the overbilling BigLaw lawyer, apparently, he blamed the "billing expectations" of the firms where he worked for his illicit billing additions. Though, it seems had he spoken up about needing more work to rack up those hours, his firms could've helped him "churn that bill." Curiously though, despite years of falsely churning, he reported his own overbilling to a senior attorney at his firm, which he seems to now claim was his way of doing the right thing.

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