Post Authored By: Kasim Carbide
For most attorneys, law school presented a challenging time of difficult exams, time management, and learning the ethics of the legal profession. Aside from the typical coursework like Civil Procedure and Constitutional Law, every ABA accredited law school requires law students to pass a legal ethics class, often referred to as “professional responsibility.”
One of the biggest mistakes a lawyer can make, for example, is to comingle their client’s trust fund with their own personal assets.[i] Professors devote entire weeks to the proper and ethical collection of client funds, retainer agreements, and keeping client funds separate from personal assets until such time that those funds have been properly earned by the lawyer.
While the proper collection of funds is an important aspect of the practice of law, many lawyers find themselves starting new jobs right out of law school that demand long hours and billable hours. While most lawyers eventually find their footing and rhythm with billable hours, some lawyers find it difficult and eventually opt for smaller firms or in-house practices. While billable hours may not be for all lawyers, billing a client for more hours without working those hours is a clear violation of legal ethics.
Two recently barred Illinois lawyers were suspended for inflating their billable hours.[ii] One lawyer was suspended for 60 days because she submitted false billing records resulting in a client being overbilled by a whopping $40,176. While the firm refunded the client’s overpayment, this did not reflect well on the lawyer’s integrity, and likely will cause the client to review every future invoice carefully. Similarly, the other lawyer was suspended for one year and required to complete a professionalism seminar for falsely billing over 2,000 in a pro bono matter.
While these lawyers likely feared the monetary repercussions of not satisfying their billing requirements, it seems these lawyers took it a few steps further and may have been motivated by bonus incentives. In any event, these suspensions remind all lawyers that the monetary gain for overbilling is almost always short-lived, and typically result in professional consequences. Given the time, money, and resources invested into receiving a license to practice law, the short-term monetary gain is never worth it. Instead, lawyers should focus on chasing excellence, and the money will follow.
[i] Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15.
[ii] Illinois Supreme Court Disbars Six, Suspends Nineteen in Latest Disciplinary Filing, Illinois State Bar Association (Sep. 24, 2021), https://www.isba.org/barnews/2021/09/illinoissupremecourtdisbarssixsuspe.
About the Author:
Kasim Carbide concentrates his practice in Corporate Law, Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Compliance, and counseling FinTech startups. When he is not reading or billing, Kasim enjoys cooking, watching the Office, and playing Catan with family and friends.