A former lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis and Chicago firm Neal Gerber & Eisenberg admitted to a years-long practice of overbilling clients while he worked at both firms, according to a lawyer discipline complaint in Illinois made public Thursday.
Christopher Anderson admitted to overbilling in August last year, according to the complaint, and an ensuing Neal Gerber investigation determined that the conduct had impacted more than 100 clients. The firm offered to refund the clients a total of more than $150,000, which equaled 20 percent of the time Anderson had billed, the complaint said.
Despite the refund, Neal Gerber’s managing partner Scott Fisher said an investigation the firm commenced following Anderson’s confession found there was no “data indicating any unreasonable bill, any discernible pattern of time inflation nor any material overcharging.”
“The investigation further found that, had our firm been subjected to an outside audit of its billing records, Mr. Anderson’s time would not have drawn attention,” Fisher said in an email.
Fisher said the incident was isolated to Anderson. “Our response has been guided by our commitment to transparency and to making this right by our clients. That is why we offered to refund a portion of the amount paid for Mr. Anderson’s time,” Fisher said in an email.
Anderson had worked as an associate at the midsize firm from 2015 to 2018, when he made partner as a technology transactions and IP-focused lawyer, according to his resume on professional networking website LinkedIn. He self-reported the overbilling in August and then was fired by the firm.
“This is just an attempt by me to make my life right,” Anderson said in a brief interview. “It’s not been easy for me along the way, but I feel like I’ve done the right thing.”
The complaint said Kirkland was unaware of Anderson’s overbilling while he worked at the firm from 2011 through 2015 as an associate. The firm similarly offered refunds to clients affected by his billing practices, although the complaint does not specify the number of clients impacted or the amount of money he overcharged. A Kirkland spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.
Anderson, who had a billing rate of $450 in 2018, was motivated to overbill his clients, the complaint said, because of “what he perceived to be the firms’ billing expectations.” On days where he felt he had not recorded enough billable time, he would increase the time he said he spent doing actual work, the complaint said. For instance, he would bill half an hour for work that actually took 18 minutes, the complaint said.
So far, no official discipline has been imposed on Anderson. The filing of a complaint is the beginning of an Illinois disciplinary process that ultimately results in a recommendation to the state’s Supreme Court, which issues suspensions or revokes law licenses.
While discipline for overbilling clients can vary widely from case-to-case and state-to-state, a former Faegre Baker Daniels associate received a nine-month suspension from the practice of law in 2017 when she admitted to overbilling clients by about $40,000 in an attempt to hit the firm’s yearly billing goals following her wedding.
Big Law associates often cite uncertain expectations and lack of transparency around billing goals and requirements in The American Lawyer’s annual associate satisfaction survey.
“Please be more transparent with the partnership [track] and the hours we bill,” one associate requested in an anonymous survey. “For instance, I made my bonus last year by hitting above the 1,950-hour mark but was not provided a breakdown of the hours per matter so that I could understand all inputs.”