On March 25, 2013, The New York Times reported that the “world’s largest law firm,” DLA Piper, had been accused by a former client of a “sweeping practice of overbilling.” Internal correspondence from attorneys within—the former client alleged—evidenced the firm’s overbilling practices. Attorneys at the firm gloated in the emails that: “I hear we are already 200k over our estimate” and that the firm had “random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode.” The firm denied any wrongdoing, explaining that the emails were nothing more than an offensive and inexcusable effort at humor, but did not reflect any actual excessive billing practices at the firm.
This alleged instance of attorney overbilling captured the media’s and the public’s attention because, as described in a statement from Lisa Lerman, a law professor at Catholic University and an expert on the issue, this is not an isolated event at one firm. Rather, attorney overbilling is a “pervasive problem” in the American legal profession.
It was reported in the Times on April 17 that the parties resolved the dispute and that the terms of the settlement were confidential. Thus, there is no way for us to know at present whether any actual overbilling occurred in this case. However, overbilling in general is something that all consumers of legal services should know about and protect themselves from. Based on my experience representing plaintiffs in overbilling matters, there are several actions that a client can and should take to protect itself from possible overbilling abuses such as those alleged in the DLA Piper matter.