Lawyers always find creative ways to bill, says Marci Waterman, a managing director at Sterling Analytics Group LLC, in Woodbury, New York, part of a growing band of legal bill auditors. “If you tell a lawyer they can’t bill for one thing, they’ll find a way to bill the time for something else,” she says. “But clients are now really scrutinizing bills and pushing them to justify their charges.”
Despite that, Waterman, Patrick Woods, executive vice president at auditor Legal Cost Control Inc., and John Toothman, president of legal fee management consulting firm Devil’s Advocate, say they routinely sees bills from mainly Am Law 200 firms where lawyers are pushing their luck, like these:
• Submitting a series of bills that, together, resulted in one lawyer charging 42 hours in a single day. A lawyer at another firm billed just over 500 hours over 15 days—an average of more than 33 hours per day.
• Billing for the cost of a party the lawyer had thrown at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. The lawyer had rented a VIP box at the stadium and tried to charge his client for the catered food and alcohol for the entire box by listing it on his bill as “dinner while attending deposition in Indianapolis.”
• Billing for a three-hour drive to a hearing, attempting to justify an exemption to the client’s policy on not paying for travel time by saying that he was thinking about his opening statement while on the road.
• Billing a client for time spent showering, because that’s where he came up with his best ideas.
• Invoicing for a cupcake the lawyer sent to an insurance librarian who had carried out research for a case. The entry on the bill was titled “pastry gift.”
• Charging a client for lingerie because the lawyer didn’t pack enough underwear for the duration of a trial.
• Chartering a jet (and billing the client) to send New York lawyers to review documents in Virginia, rather than having them take a shuttle that flew every half hour.
• Billing for unusually expensive “meals” that turned out to be strip-club expenses lawyers from an Atlanta firm racked up while in South Florida for client business.
• Charging a client for the lawyer’s state bar registration fees.
• Billing a Washington, D.C., client for airfare, hotels, meals and travel time to fly in staff from the firm’s West Coast headquarters—even though the matter was D.C.-focused and the firm had an office in D.C.
• Billing almost $100,000 to maintain and eventually sell a classic car worth around half that amount. A partner and associate at a Pennsylvania firm liked to drive the car and billed by the hour while doing so.
• Billing $6,000 for “morale boosters throughout trial.”
• Billing a client 32 hours for a paralegal’s paid time off.
• Charging a client $1,900 to recharge the lawyer’s Starbucks card over the course of a bankruptcy matter.
• Charging a client for document review work handled by a third-party vendor at a 320 percent markup. The firm also added the document review hours to its own bill, again at a 320 percent markup, resulting in a total overbilling of $6.3 million.
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