Lawyers use a variety of techniques in order to overcharge their clients. While not every attorney engages in these unethical practices, there are many who do so. It is important to be aware of the common fraudulent techniques in order to protect yourself and get the most for your money. After all, dishonesty in billing can not only increase the amount you pay, but may decrease the quality of the job you paid for.
A far too common practice is double billing.
This is when an attorney charges two clients for the same hour of work. Several forms of this particular overcharging method exist, but they all dilute the value delivered to clients in some way. Sometimes lawyers can perform one piece of work, such as a research session, that applies to more than one client. They essentially recycle their efforts to help many people at once. In some cases, this may not necessarily hurt the clients, especially if the work is equally relevant to multiple parties.
The unethical nature of this practice would come into play if the attorney billed each party at the full rate. For example, if a drafted document took an hour to produce and an attorney bills two clients for that same hour, double billing has occurred. Even though nothing changes on the client’s side, as they would have needed to pay for a full hour anyway, the attorney is earning more money than they deserve. In this type of situation, the right course of action would be charging each client half the full rate.
When the quality of a client’s work is impacted, this is the worst form of double billing. Multitasking has become more widespread in the modern world, and this practice has extended to the legal industry as well. An attorney may work on multiple projects for different clients at once, yet bill the clients as if their attention was solely focused on the clients’ specific jobs. In the worst cases, double billing may not be limited to just two people. An attorney may work on four different projects during an hour, then bill each of the clients for a full hour, thus turning one hour’s of work into four.
Another way that attorneys inflate client bills is through padding.
They either take longer than necessary on jobs or lie about how much they worked in order to charge more. Padding can even be combined with double billing, which attorneys can do to extract exorbitant sums from unknowing clients. Lawyers may also bill clients in high increments, such as by the quarter-hour or half-hour, so they have a means of rounding up. For example, if a task took ten minutes but the lowest billing increment is a quarter-hour, the client would be charged for an additional five minutes of valueless time.
Before getting involved in a long-term legal relationship, it is imperative to know how long various tasks are expected to take. Knowing as much as possible beforehand will allow you to spot inconsistencies or situations where tasks are taking exceedingly long. Also, if your attorney knows that you understand how the billing process works, they will be less likely to engage in fraudulent practices with you.
If you suspect that your attorney is overbilling you, know that you can take steps to recover your improperly billed fees. Review Billing can help you recover your attorney fees by analyzing your legal bill for excessive expenditures and billing discrepancies.