Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NYT: Inflated billing practices?

A hot article at the New York Times right now discusses a lawsuit brought against the law firm DLA Piper for over billing. Discovery by the client unearthed a number of emails where associates joked and reveled about churning and over billing the file. There are almost 500 comments at this point where lawyers and clients are weighing in on the practice. This really bad PR is a further nail in the coffin of Big Law and its system of training young lawyers at the expense of clients for the profit of partners.

Anyone like to comment here on how this will effect law schools as clients begin to revolt or about billing practices in general?


  1. Smaller firms and networks of solos will dominate the future. The old super-firm structure with lavish pay for first-year associates has been dying for years, and the recession accelerated the trend. Just as the law school gravy train is disintegrating, so is the $1200/hour firm, as technology and the glut of experienced lawyers makes such billing indefensible.

    FYI: the Times posted a bullshit Room for Debate section yesterday (or so) where various people try to argue in favor of the potential payoff for various types of higher education degrees -- mega bs by the shovelful.

  2. Agreed. I think the future of law will also be dominated by legal outsourcing companies. It's actually a very exciting time to be a part of the legal profession if one isn't drowning in student loan debt. Unfortunately, thanks to law schools, most recent grads are.

    The biglaw model, much like the law school model, is built on dishonesty and swindling others. If something can't go on forever, it won't.

  3. DISagreed. I think that the biglaw model is a relic from the good old days on Wall Street (which most people find rather repulsive now, save for a few sad souls), agreed. But I also think that the future is NOT small firms and certainly not solos.

    The work that most small firms, and almost every solo, conducts is work that is rapidly being taken over by DIY services online. Residential real estate is being done by title companies with no lawyers. Divorces can be DIY. Immigration, DIY. Wills and estate planning, DIY (if anyone has any assets these days anyway...)

    Solos are done.

    Plus the market is soooooooo oversaturated that fees are dropping exponentially for small firms and solos.

    There will be a need for a few smaller and medium size firms to handle the few things that can't be done DIY or inhouse, and there will be a need for larger firms to cater to those jackoffs who still think that they are covering their backs by hiring the "best" lawyers at $1000 per hour.

    But the average Joe or Jane like you or me hates lawyers, sees no reason to pay someone $100+ per hour to do something that they can do online for almost nothing, and will do anything they can to avoid the inconvenience of seeing a real lawyer.

    I see criminal defense being still practiced by solos, but as other solos give up on their once-stable real estate practices, or their immigration work, or those kinds of things, the criminal defense market will start to erode too. Too many practitioners seeking too little work. Rate will drop. Everyone suffers.

    The legal profession has done everything it can to rape the profession for future generations. The Boomer "I got mine!" generation has truly fucked this up.

    Oh, yes and doc review and outsourcing like 11:37 mentioned, that will be the norm too.

    Stable careers in law are done.

    1. Rate cutting in criminal law has already begun. New Grads with no idea about what they are doing taking DUI"s for $300-400. Sometimes you see these guys with serious cases and you shudder to think what is going to happen. The state bar associations won't be able to keep up with complaints, and desperate practitioners will break every rule to make a living. And why not? Getting disbarred means less and less when the license is becoming less and less valuable.

  4. Several years ago, I had the (mis)fortune to sit in on some important board meetings at a public company. This board decided to get a biglaw firm to help with litigation defense. The understood rationale: if the case went badly, the board had a defense in that it hired biglaw, so there was nothing else it could do. There will always be a market for biglaw for companies with huge insurance policies or high stakes lit. But if I were a GC, I would never hire biglaw unless it guaranteed it wouldn't use first years for anything beyond diligence and that I got to pre-approve anyone new billing to the client. But I think this whole situation is infrequent enough that it won't trickle down to the law school level.

  5. I'm not a lawyer, but I talked to one about an issue last month. I think for lawyers who take the cases of commoners it will be necessary to have a strong reputation on the internet in order to get good work because that is where someone who doesn't know a lawyer will start to look for one.

    The firm would have to look professional on their website, but also be a Goldilocks firm; too big and small clients will not think the firm will be willing to help them, too small and clients will not think the firm will be able to help them.

    I also think there will be less work and the average job will be harder. Easy cases will probably be handled more by the people themselves since if someone has a real estate closing or wants to write a will or something they will think lawyers are expensive and do it themselves, but if someone is in serious civil or criminal trouble and they are afraid they will still want a lawyer.

    My very uninformed opinion is that experienced lawyers who are good at dealing with scared or angry people will still eat and inexperienced lawyers or lawyers who don't like dealing with people will just starve. The real thinking like a lawyer is not in appellate briefings but in getting scared clients to calm down enough to do things that are rational and in their legal interests.

    1. Yes. I've never thought of good lawyering as basically being a therapist, but that's actually a good analysis.

      And law is also 49% sales as well as 49% therapy. It's about 2% law. Which makes me wonder why the hell law school is even required?

  6. Speaking as an outsider: possibly the greatest tribute to the groundwork of LawProf and on this blog would be to say:

    That OLSS is the word from the street of real people now in the very real trenches of the legal profession and trying to make it in American life and law as a career and in the face of all of the historically anomalous obstacles they have not foreseen but nevertheless inherited and are now shouldering from their negligent and greedy, old, boomer forebears from the legal profession who made a conscious choice to willfully and wantonly and with impunity abuse the big pocket of both the federal and private student lending system; to screw the kids and take the money and run in other words, and let the scammed students and youngsters deal with the financial destruction that they (call them boomers if you like) have left behind. Like they did with the real estate mortgage crisis.

    How was that?

    1. I hope that I get the chance to make many a boomer-hating decision in my later years.

  7. Apparently you can find more than 24 billable hours in a day. As this news story seems to indicate

    According to the commentators on that article, if you are worthless enough, you can find even 41.2 billable hours in a day.

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  9. Great column. You sound exactly like someone I'd love to know. Keep celebrating you. The world needs a lot more people just like you. Thanks for your honesty.
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