Lawyer Billing Tom-Foolery: Bizarre Things Lawyers Try to Bill For
It's no secret that some people hate lawyers. Unfortunately, there are times when that enmity is actually justified. The majority of lawyers out there, it appears, bill their clients in a manner that is honest, above board, and in good faith. But then you get the lawyers who spoil it for everyone else, and the whole profession gets a black eye.
Here is a small collection of things that some unethical attorneys have actually billed for and gotten away with .... until they were found out.
Furs and Lingerie
Webster Hubbell bilked his firm to the tune of about $480K in client billings so he could run off and buy lingerie and furs at Victoria's Secret. A paper trial eventually led back to Hubbell and revealed massive fraudulent billing. He also managed only to settle with his firm in the amount of $300,000. How nice.
Champagne and Uderwear
Another anonymous (smart) lawyer bragged that he fraudulently billed clients in the amount of 10,000 GBP (about $15,000 at the time) so he could go and get fancy meals, champagne, and swanky underwear.
Unethical Billing Classics
Aside from the truly bizarre cases, there are a number of classic billing tactics used by unethical lawyers. Here are the most notorious:
Double Billing: This one is clearly unethical and it can and should get lawyers into big trouble with their local ethics committee. Unfortunately, more than a third of lawyers have anonymously admitted to this practice according to a 2007 survey conducted by SamFord University Cumerland Law School. All the while, the ABA has condemned the attorneys who do so. So despite our love of Jimmy McGill (alias Saul Goodman), this stuff isn't a laughing matter.
Padding Hours: FindLaw has written about this one in our previous piece, How Lawyers Pad Their Hours and Why You Shouldn't. This is the practice of stretching the time spent on client related tasks to the breaking point of credulity and straining ethics at the same time. Flipping pencils while working on a client case but really thinking about dinner? Bill that. Waited until the seventh minute just so you could bill the client for 2/10ths of an hour? That's another padding classic that could potentially land you in a world of hurt. So despite our love of Jimmy McGill (alias Saul Goodman), this stuff isn't a laughing matter.
Bathroom Breaks on Client Time: There is no bright-line rule that practitioners can turn to in order to determine when a clock begins and ends when the lawyer decides to use the little-girls' room on client time, but billing that client for two hours of quality alone time goes way beyond bending ethical boundaries. Other non-bathroom related tasks that are necessary can sometimes be unnecessarily expensive. Attorney lore still recalls how one lawyer spent a $190/hour paralegal to physically deliver a letter to court.
We can laugh at all we want about attorneys going to Victoria's Secret to stock up Y2K style on ladies' underthings, but these sorts of stories have rightfully fueled client distrust of attorneys. Don't be one of them.
- 10 Ways Lawyers Rip Off Clients (Business Insider)
- A Brief History of the Billable Hour (FindLaw's Strategist)
- First Week at the Firm: How to Maximize Your Billable Hours (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Law Firm Throws out Billable Hours for Associate Evaluations (FindLaw's Strategist)