Two of the more common issues encountered when reviewing legal bills are “over lawyering” and “over staffing.” Over lawyering occurs when a lawyer does too much legal work in a case and over staffing occurs when there are too many lawyers doing legal work in a case. While they are different concepts, they nevertheless are considered to be two sides of the same coin.
Attorneys who engage in over lawyering or over working of a case are guilty of unethical conduct. See ABA Annotated Model Rules of Prof. Conduct (7th ed. 2011) at p. 72 “Doing Way Too Much.” Also see Orsic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, 677 (3d Cir. 1983), (“Our cases supply no authority for rewarding non-stop meter running in law offices.”).
Similarly, lawyers who engage in over staffing a case are also guilty of an ethics violation as it is seen a species of over lawyering. See ABA Annotated Model Rules of Prof. Conduct, supra, at p. 73 “Too Many Lawyers Working on a Matter” (“Participation by too many lawyers is another form over lawyering that can result in a violation of Rule 1.5(a).”).
Thus it is that because over staffing is seen as a form of over lawyering, both are considered as two sides of the same coin – at least from a legal ethics standpoint. Also see ABA Formal Op. 93-379, at p. 7 (“Moreover, continuous toil on or overstaffing a project for the purpose of churning out hours is also not properly considered “earning” one’s fees” citing Model Rule 3.2.).
But if it is unethical to do so, why would lawyers overwork or over staff cases? Apart from those lawyers who really don’t care about ethics – unless they are caught acting unethically – there are those lawyers who get so wrapped in wanting to get a favorable result that they forget who it is that is paying their bills. Unfortunately, they forget that the client is only obligated to pay for “reasonable legal fees” and that fees generated as a result of “over lawyering” or “over working” a case are definitely not considered to be “reasonable legal fees.”
At LegalBillAudit.com, we routinely look for evidence of over lawyering or over staffing when we review legal bills. This is just one of the things that sets us apart from other legal bill review consultants who often use non-attorneys or attorneys who are not expert in legal ethics and also are not experienced enough to tell when a case is being overworked or overstaffed.