It’s hardly a secret that billing issues, which span every legal matter, will get a lawyer sideways with grievance authorities, both state and federal, quicker than virtually all other areas of practice. It is conservatively estimated that at least 25% of the grievances filed with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission are fee related; put another way, at least 718 grievances filed in 2014 resulted from billing improprieties. Whether the conduct be intentional, or merely the result of sloppy business practices, scrutiny of money related matters is intense.
Like its state counterpart, the Office of Enrollment on Discipline (OED), the investigative arm of the United States Patent Office, has predictably taken a very hard line with respect to fee related matters. In two cases, In re Riley and In re Peterson, the USPTO practitioner was excluded from practice as a result of billing for work not performed and theft from the client’s business checking account.
Overbilling and cocaine share one common trait; they are both highly addictive. In each case, abuse generally begins modestly and when undetected, continues to increase. The fact that law firms place so much emphasis on the bottom line creates enormous pressure to bill, particularly on the young attorneys who desperately want to please. During my six years on the Attorney Grievance Commission, it was very sad to see young lawyers lose their ticket for varying periods of time, because of dishonest, creative writing approaches to entry of time.
As with every other addictive process and substance, it’s far easier to not engage than it is to disengage.