Attorney Douglas Richmond has written several scholarly articles on the subjects of attorney ethics and legal billing. In Professional Responsibilities of Law Firm Associates, 45 Brandeis L. J. 199 (Winter 2007), Richmond expresses the view that attorneys who overbill their clients often will rationalize away their deceptions to clients that what they are doing is not stealing, but is “borrowing.” Richmond writes that
“Maybe you will bill a client for ninety minutes for a task that really took you only sixty minutes to perform. However, you will promise yourself that you will repay the client at the first opportunity by doing thirty minutes of the work for the client for ‘free.’ . . . . And then what will happen is that it will becomes easier to take these little loans against future work. And then, after a while, you will top paying back these little loans. . . . You will continue to rationalize your dishonesty to yourself in various ways until one day you stop even doing that. And, before long . . . you will be stealing from your clients almost every day, and you won’t even notice it.”
If what Richmond says is true (and my experience has been that it is true), this raises a more serious question. If you cannot trust your lawyer to correctly bill you for their services, can you trust your lawyer on other issues? If your lawyer tells you that she has tried and tried to reach opposing counsel to press settlement or get you the information you need, is she telling you the truth or is she deceiving you?
In other words, is lawyer deception in one area (billing) confined to just that one area or does it invariably lead to deceptions in other areas? The answer to this question may be ”yes” according to legal scholars who have carefully examined the issues. They have found that deception by attorneys in their billing practices does invariably lead to deceptions in other areas.
In a future post, I will go over what some legal scholars have written about how attorneys practice deceptions with clients and most unfortunately, how they become all too comfortable doing it or become adept at rationalizing it away (e.g., see Richmond article, supra). More importantly, I will discuss what steps clients can take to ferret out or guard against attorney deceptions.