The Business Litigation Blog

Lawyer Keeps Billing-- Even Charges for His Own Sanctions

An Illinois lawyer was recently cited for billing a client for his own sanctions.  Attorney Cameron Davidson was reprimanded in connection with his work in representing the famed agricultural equipment maker Deere Co.  According to the Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, Davidson failed to properly prepare answers for Deere Co.’s discovery answers during an employment case, failed to adequately communicate with the client regarding the nature of a discovery dispute, and charged Deere for expenses relating to Davidson’s own acts or omissions.

Billing Issues

According to the Iowa disciplinary board, Davidson mischaracterized various billing costs. One $700 bill was labeled as “miscellaneous” and as a general penalty for discovery issues.  In fact, the bill was for a sanction against the attorney for a legal mistake. Davidson labeled another bill for a $1,750 sanction as “Misc[ellaneous] Costs.” In another, he labeled the bill for a $1,050 sanction as “Miscellaneous; Attorneys’ Fees; B. Douglas Stephens.”

The problem with these bills is they do not clearly represent the nature of the charges, which defeats the entire purpose of the sanctions. The sanctions were directed against the Davidson-- not the client, who was not at fault and was unaware of the issues that led to the court issuing them.  It was highly improper for him to then bill the client for those sanctions.

Honest and Clear Billing is a Lawyer’s Professional Requirement

Lawyers are required to ensure that their work (including the work done by others working under their authority, such as junior attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, or other staff) is billed to clients appropriately.  The client bills must also clearly describe the work done and the time and date of each task performed on behalf of the client. This is a key tenet of the ‘billable hour:’ that attorneys bill clients for the actual, direct work they do on behalf of a client.  Work that is only tangential to a client’s matter, or that is a basic or routine administrative expense, should not be billed to the client.

Of course, the billable hour can cover operational expenses to support the firm, such as rent and the wages of support staff. However, an attorney cannot bill for both the work they perform for a client and for administrative expenses unrelated to work done on behalf of the client.

Perhaps the only exception to this rule arises when firms use ‘flat rate’ bills.  In that situation, a firm will charge a flat rate for all the work performed on a given project, such as $1,000 for preparing a will and trust, rather than billing by the hour for the work.

 

For Additional Questions About Legal Malpractice, Contact Respected Attorneys
If you have questions about legal malpractice or attorney ethics, call or email the attorneys at the Patterson Law Firm for guidance. We can advise you on your legal rights and help you choose the best course of action for your case.  If you experienced what you suspect was legal malpractice, you may have a serious claim and legal remedy. 

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