This is not the first time an attorney has been accused of overbilling clients for legal work. Most recently, according to the American Bar Association Journal (ABA), a partner at BigLaw firm Duane Morris in Massachusetts had her bar license suspended for six months due to overbilling. The initial recommendation, which was rejected by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, was a two-year long suspension.
The Billing Practices
The offense included the alleged overbilling. The firm opened up an investigation after the attorney had informed them that in 2015 she had worked 3,173 billable hours and more than 720 non-billable hours. The attorney failed to keep contemporaneous track of her time in the firm’s billing system. Instead, she relied on her legal assistant to create first-draft billing reports. The legal assistant would gather up the attorney’s notepads, pleading binders, correspondence, and emails. The investigation revealed that the attorney’s notepads often did not include the time she devoted to tasks while other times no entry was available for other tasks.
After the legal assistant would create the records, the attorney would review the billing and make hand-written changes. The legal assistant would then enter the information into the firm’s billing system. Thereafter, the firm would create monthly draft bills for each client detailing all time entries from employers working on a specific legal matter. The attorney would then make additional edits to the billing, often adding hours because, according to her, the drafts would jog her memory.
After its investigation, the firm decided to reimburse or credit $260,000 in legal fees to clients, the amount the firm believed the attorney had overbilled. During the ethics hearing, no one disputed that the attorney was a high producer and hard working, putting in very long hours in 2015 and getting excellent results for clients. Moreover, clients said they were content with her work and the fees charged in complex matters were lower than prior counsel charged. The attorney, however, did admit that her billing practices were rushed, error-prone, and not adequate. One seven separate occasions, according to investigation results, the attorney had billed for depositions she did not attend. After signing a negotiated withdrawal agreement with the firm, the attorney left Duane Morris with all but one of her clients.