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Legal Ethics

Lawyer’s billing ‘shenanigans’ spur law clerk’s letter to columnist

Posted May 5, 2014 7:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A law clerk in California who is disgusted with a lawyer’s billing “shenanigans” has written a newspaper columnist for advice.

The law clerk worked for a lawyer who charged $375 an hour to represent homeowner associations, according to the Los Angeles Times real-estate column. According to the law clerk, the lawyer instructed the clerk to “take voluminous fax documents from boards, count the pages, estimate how long it would take [the lawyer] to read had he done so, and charge a pro-rata share of $375 an hour, which greatly increased his revenue. ... This and other shenanigans artificially pumped up his billing from $150,000 to well over $395,000 for one HOA case, made up of nonexistent time he claimed he spent researching the client's case."

The law clerk overhears the lawyer “talking to his gym buddies constantly, then billing HOAs for the time.” The lawyer also bills HOAs for time they spend complaining about his bills, though most associations “paid without question,” the law clerk writes.

The law clerk earned only $15 an hour, though the clerk’s time was billed out at $150 an hour. “Can I tell the HOAs what he's doing?” the law clerk asks.

The columnist, a JD who wrote the column with the help of lawyer Zachary Levine, says law firm employees should keep their employer's practices confidential, unless criminal. “Even where you feel you have an ethical duty to report the firm's activities,” the columnist says, “going behind your boss' back and directly to his clients is not the best course of action. Doing so might be construed as interference, possibly subjecting you to a lawsuit.

“It is best to bring your concerns to the attention of the firm first and exhaust your internal remedies to resolve potential improprieties by speaking with your supervising attorney. If you are not satisfied with the response, or no changes are made, your next step is to bring these practices to light by filing a complaint with the state bar.”

The column says that if the law clerk isn’t comfortable with the way the law firm operates, “you are free to leave, and it might be wise to do so.”

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