Two weeks ago, I wrote about one of Biglaw’s most pressing issues: the failure of senior partners to pass along clients to younger partners. But that is not the only problem some of Biglaw’s senior partners are causing for their firms and the industry as a whole. Unfortunately, a measurable portion of senior partners, those of the august titles and stratospheric billing rates, are among the worst offenders of one of Biglaw’s most notorious shortcuts to extreme profitability: creative time entry and billing.
While I hate to acknowledge, even though I have seen it firsthand, that partners make up time entries wholesale for work never performed, it is not hard to realize that in this age of the multimillion-dollar partner there exists a tremendous incentive for such behavior. Or at least for partners to “round up” time entries, a tacitly accepted practice within Biglaw.
Incentives matter, and the more richly compensated a senior partner is, the more pressure there is on them to put down a solid four to five hours for “reviewing and revising” a draft brief on Tuesday, only to make a similar entry when they review a more robust version of the same brief a few days later. And because senior partners are frequently responsible for a horde of timekeepers below them, the tone set by the lawyers at the top of the pyramid has an impact on the behavior of those lower on the chain….
* Stop bullying the judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They don’t cave to just any government data request — they make changes to about 25 percent of them. But uh… they don’t like to talk about the other 75 percent. [Bloomberg]
* Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the number of Biglaw firms with failing grades for diversity. Hunton & Williams, Patton Boggs, and Thompson Coe are by far the worst offenders of all 19 large firms, with ZERO minority partners. [Texas Lawbook]
* A contract attorney is currently facing criminal charges for felony overbilling (which isn’t actually a real crime, but it’d be cooler if it was… plus it would make lots of lawyers from DLA Piper cry). [Radio Iowa]
* Well, at least one school got the message about the tuition being too damn high. Iowa Law is reducing tuition for out-of-state students by about $8K in the hopes of filling more seats. [Des Moines Register]
* Amanda Knox, more commonly known as Foxy Knoxy, says that she’s no “femme fatale,” but she’s being portrayed, again, as a “sex-obsessed she-devil” after already being acquitted of murder. [Reuters]
* Fashion designer Christian Louboutin was seeing red over the use of his trademark red soles in anti-Islam political messages, so he sued over it, and this time, he won. Rejoice, fashionistas! [New York Magazine]
Lawyers pad bills. They shouldn’t, but they do. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake born of bad record-keeping. Sometimes it’s a genuine cash grab. Other times it’s brought on by an honest desire to exact a tiny measure of revenge on a client whose indecisiveness or incompetence has made the lawyer’s life hell.
But when lawyers unethically pad these bills, there’s little chance of getting caught when there’s just an extra 30 minutes billed to “further work” here and there. But if a lawyer were to, say, start billing the same client for 29-hour days, it’s really only a matter of time until the jig is up.
If you think no lawyer is dumb enough to bill the same client for a 29-hour day, you’d be wrong….
* J. Lo has apologized for singing Happy Birthday to a repressive dictator. Many are questioning the decision to serenade an alleged violator of international human rights law, but I’m just confused why J. Lo didn’t opt for the new, copyright-free birthday song? But people are being way too tough on the President of Turkmenistan. Don’t be fooled by the rocks that he got, he’s still Gurbanguly from the block. [Breaking Energy]
* NYU Law Professor Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick wonder if the progressives have another liberal agenda item to push after marriage equality. The authors cite issues like voting rights and opposition to the death penalty as traditionally liberal causes marginalized by progressives. It strikes me this article makes a lot more sense if you replace the word “progressive” with “Justice Kennedy.” [Slate]
* DLA Piper’s decision to hire Lee Smolen has raised more than a few eyebrows given the firm’s commitment to ethical billing policies. [Hellerman Baretz]
* After a week of landmark rulings and Biglaw layoffs, the importance of clerking cannot be understated. [Judicial Clerk Review]
* The Supreme Court Term feels like a distant memory, but now’s a good time to look back on it with added perspective. Courtesy of MoloLamken, here’s a great guide to the big business cases of the Supreme Court Term just ended. Download or print it, then read it at your leisure. [MoloLamken]
* An attorney left the rat race to open a pea company. But these don’t look like the peas you tried to hide under your mashed potatoes, they look like serious snack food. [Kickstarter]
* “[T]hese senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them” Yesterday, the Senate blocked gun-control legislation that could have saved lives, and Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence, wrote a powerful op-ed in reaction. [New York Times]
* DLA Piper won’t be churning that bill anymore because the firm managed to settle its fee dispute with Adam Victor, but it’s certain that the firm’s embarrassment over the overbilling incident will know no limits. [DealBook / New York Times]
* Ahh, best-laid plans: Kim Koopersmith, the first woman to serve as Akin Gump’s chair, never thought that she’d be working in a law firm. In law school, she wanted to work in public interest. [Bloomberg]
* You’ll never guess which firm has the best brand in Canada according to the latest Acritas survey, but that’s probably because you don’t care. Come on, it’s Canada. Fine, it’s Norton Rose. [Am Law Daily]
* Oopsie! Burford Capital claims that it would never have funded plaintiffs’ representation by Patton Boggs in the Chevron case if it weren’t for a partner’s “false and misleading” statements. [CNN Money]
* The wife of a former justice of the peace has been charged with capital murder after she confessed to her involvement in the slayings of Texas prosecutors Mike McLelland and Mark Hasse. [Reuters]
* Can you DIG it?! Well, SCOTUS can’t, at least when it comes to the Prop 8 case, but perhaps that’s what the conservative justices planned all along. You can probably expect a judicial punt on this one. [New York Times]
* The case for cameras at the high court became even more compelling last week, because people just now realized that having to “spend money to see a public institution do public business is offensive.” Damn straight. [National Law Journal]
* Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s new book, Out of Order (affiliate link), didn’t exactly get a glowing review from the NYT’s Supreme Court correspondent, Adam Liptak. It’s a “gift shop bauble”? Ouch. [New York Times]
* Oh, Lanny Breuer, you tried to be all coy by saying you were interviewing elsewhere, but we knew you’d return to Covington. That “vice-chairman” title is a pretty sweet new perk, too. [Legal Times]
* DLA Piper’s bills may “know no limits,” but in-house counsel claim that while the firm’s emails were “flippant,” they won’t have an impact their already meticulous billing review. [New York Law Journal]
* Good news, everyone! The class of 2012 — the largest on record, according to the ABA — was only slightly more unemployed than its predecessors. Cherish the little things, people. [National Law Journal]
First, some random thoughts on the legal news of the week:
1) Who gives two ***** if gay folks get married? Or have the same rights as you and me? My goodness, if two people want to get married, God Bless them! And it is a civil rights issue; being told that you can’t have information on your partner’s hospital stay because of HIPAA is downright medieval. The pastor whose YouTube speech went viral after reading from anti-desegregation literature and turning it into an anti-gay marriage diatribe was probably the most brilliant argument in defense of gay marriage. Twenty years from now we’ll be saying: “Gay marriage? Meh, it’s really those damned ______ that we have to watch out for…” Hey, it’s America, **** yeah!!, every group gets a turn at being the downtrodden.
2) Don’t get me started on North Dakota’s draconian steps with regard to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Now see, it’s Holy Week and I probably can’t take communion.
3) This DLA Piper billing debacle? Makes me sick, and is a perfect segue into finishing my column from last week. I know I know, DLA came out and said, “Heh heh, we were just kidding. Those guys aren’t even around here anymore. Overbilling? Meh. Never happened, we promise.” What did you expect them to say?
I happen to know personally one of those mentioned in the story, and he was just as much a dim bulb back then, so it is no surprise that he wrote that stuff in an email. That he moved on to a partnership at another firm is no surprise either. I will say that he is infamous for leaving one of the funniest and most outrageous drunk emails voicemails on a colleague’s phone early one morning. And he probably can’t figure out who he is from this blind item in any event. But, I digress, back to overbilling…
In fairness to DLA Piper, the craziness might not be that high on a per capita basis. DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world. In the most recent Global 100 rankings, DLA took second place in both total revenue and attorney headcount.
Many of the DLA Piper stories are on the lighter side. But this latest one — involving serious allegations of overbilling, apparently supported by internal DLA emails saying things like “churn that bill, baby!” — is no laughing matter….
* You know, in 20 years, Republicans are going to be telling us that the federal government’s pot taxes are too high. [Washington Post]
* DLA Piper might get in trouble from bragging about the size… of its bills. [Dealbook]
* Michele Bachmann is under investigation for being a demon spawn of the fifth circle from… oh, wait sorry, they’re just looking at her use of campaign funds. [ABC News]
* Is anybody else unreasonably excited to hear what offensive, homophobic remark Justice Scalia makes today? [National Review]
* With everybody looking at gays, I wonder if this will be the day for the Supreme Court to declare the end of racism against white people while doing nothing about racism against black people with a 5-3 (Kagan recusing) decision on Fisher. [SCOTUSblog]
* So, this BlackBerry thing doesn’t seem to be going very well. [Forbes]
Over the last three weeks, we have heard from an In-House Insider, an opinionated source of insight into Biglaw-client relations — see here, here, here, and below. As with the three prior installments, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary. Again, I thank Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues….
AP: Any serious observer of Biglaw can see that firms continue to struggle adapting associate development to the new state of Biglaw-client relations. What can Biglaw learn from corporate clients like yourself on that front?
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