BigLaw associate suspended for inflating billable hours after return from honeymoon
A former associate at Faegre Baker Daniels in Denver has agreed to a nine-month suspension for inflating her billable hours after returning from a two-week honeymoon in December.
Mary Jaclyn Cook was short of her billable hours target for the year until she entered or finalized 60 entries on Jan. 3, according to an Aug. 10 suspension based on a conditional admission of misconduct. The Am Law Daily (sub. req.) covered the suspension, noted on the Legal Profession Blog.
The billable hours target was 1,850, according to Law.com. In some of the Jan. 3 entries, Cook inflated the time she had worked, according to the conditional admission. Other entries were fabricated entirely, the conditional admission said. The alleged overbilling reflected nearly $40,000 in time that Cook had not worked.
A supervisor flagged the billing as unusually high and firm partners confronted Cook later that month. She panicked initially and said the charges were legitimate, the conditional admission said. She confessed later that day to inflating her time because she feared she would be fired for failing to meet the billable hours target, according to the document.
In a statement supplied to the Am Law Daily, the law firm said failure to meet the billable hours target is not a cause for dismissal. “We communicate regularly with associates on the standards and competencies by which they are evaluated, and offer many resources to help our lawyers build successful careers,” the firm said.
Georgetown University law professor Michael Frisch, author of the Legal Profession blog post on the suspension, told Law.com that there is no excuse for overbilling, but Cook’s situation highlights billable-hour pressures. A billable-hour requirement “doesn’t encourage efficiency, and it doesn’t encourage the most cost-conscious use of attorneys’ services for clients,” he said.
Cook’s LinkedIn page identifies her as executive director of a nonprofit organization in Colorado. She did not comment on the substance of the allegations when contacted by the ABA Journal.