The Wall Street Journal Law Blog contains a story that "Study Suggests Significant Billing Abuse." In this post, Nathan Koppel refers to a study by Cumberland School of Law Professor William Ross. The study apparently is not available on line, and I have not seen it, so my thoughts here are based on the numbers contained in the Journal post.
Ross’ study finds that bill padding has remained constant while double billing have increased significantly since 1995. Here are the numbers, quoted from the Journal post:
- Ross polled 5,000 attorneys from various walks of life throughout the country, and 251 responded. He worked with Reed Business Information to generate a random sampling of lawyers who work at law firms. Two-thirds said they had “specific knowledge” of bill padding ? a finding virtually identical to one reached by Ross in a 1995 billing survey.
- Also, 54.6% of the respondents (as compared with 40.3% in 1995) admitted that they had sometimes performed unnecessary tasks just to bump up their billable output.
- The percentage of attorneys who admitted that they had double billed rose from 23% in 1996 to 34.7% in 2007. And only 51.8% regarded the practice as unethical in 2007, as compared with 64.7% in 1995.
Based on this data, Professor Ross reaches this conclusion: “With ever increasing compensation and billing pressures, attorneys are finding ways to generate more hours in a way that is not always ethical." I wonder whether it was sheer serendipity or extraordinary journalistic insight that resulted in the Journal running the story (referenced here) on the growing use of alternative fee arrangements just a day later.
From this writer’s perspective, these numbers reflect poorly on our profession. It is, however, a profession made up of adults, so I have no interest in passing judgment. But I continue to wonder when the level of disdain among clients reaches a point where they demand economic alignment between client and outside counsel.