A Massachusetts lawyer who billed her clients for hundreds of “fictional hours” and inflated final invoices by more than $200,000 has been suspended from practice.
The attorney added around 450 bogus hours to client bills in the year 2015. She didn’t keep contemporaneous billing records. She relied on her assistant to create drafts that she padded with fictional hours before entering the data in the time-billing system at the firm where she worked.
Even so, clients said they were satisfied with her efforts and that she worked “exceedingly hard” and produced excellent results, according to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
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NC Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 Fees
(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee or charge or collect a clearly excessive amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining whether a fee is clearly excessive include the following:
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.
(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.
(f) Any lawyer having a dispute with a client regarding a fee for legal services must:
(1) make reasonable efforts to advise his or her client of the existence of the North Carolina State Bar’s program of fee dispute resolution at least 30 days prior to initiating legal proceedings to collect the disputed fee; and
(2) participate in good faith in the fee dispute resolution process if the client submits a proper request.
NC Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer;
(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;
(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official;
(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law; or
(g) intentionally prejudice or damage his or her client during the course of the professional relationship, except as may be required by Rule 3.3.
Jay Reeves is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Now he writes and speaks at CLEs, keynotes and in-firm presentations on lawyer professionalism and well-being. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which offers confidential, one-on-one consultations to sharpen your firm’s mission and design an excellent Law Life. Contact email@example.com or 919-619-2441.