Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Inflated Legal Bills & Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer


From yesterday's New York Times article "Suit Offers a Peek at the Practice of Inflating a Legal Bill:"
They were lawyers at the world’s largest law firm, trading casual e-mails about a client’s case. One made a sarcastic joke about how the bill was running way over budget. Another responded by describing a colleague’s approach to the assignment as “churn that bill, baby!” The e-mails, which emerged in a court filing late last week, provide a window into the thorny issue of law firm billing. The documents are likely to reinforce a perception held by many corporate clients — and the broader public — that law firms inflate bills by performing superfluous tasks and overstaffing assignments. 
The internal correspondence of the law firm, DLA Piper, was disclosed in a fee dispute between the law firm and Adam H. Victor, an energy industry entrepreneur. After DLA Piper sued Mr. Victor for $675,000 in unpaid legal bills, Mr. Victor filed a counterclaim, accusing the law firm of a “sweeping practice of overbilling.” 
Mr. Victor’s feud with DLA Piper began after he retained the firm in April 2010 to prepare a bankruptcy filing for one of his companies. A month after the filing, a lawyer at the firm warned colleagues that the entrepreneur’s bill was mounting. “I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a partner at the firm. Another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, replied, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter. “Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.”
I don't mean to be unfair to lawyers (I'm sure lots of professions overcharge), but this story was too good to pass up. For a novel to match this, I think satire would be best. It's hard to imagine To Kill a Mockingbird or A Time to Kill focusing much on billable hours. So my recommendation is Jeremy Blachman's hilarious Anonymous Lawyer, "A wickedly funny debut novel about a high-powered lawyer whose shockingly candid blog about life inside his firm threatens to destroy him." I love how it opens:
I see you. I see you walking by my office, trying to look like you have a reason to be there. But you don't. I see the guilty look on your face. You try not to make eye contact. You try to rush past me as if you're going to the bathroom. But the bathroom is at the other end of the hall. You think I'm naïve, but I know what you're doing. Everyone knows. But she's my secretary, not yours, and her candy belongs to me, not you. And if I have a say in whether or not you ever become a partner at this firm--and trust me, I do--I'm not going to forget this. My secretary. My candy. Go back to your office and finish reading the addendum to the lease agreement. I don't want to see you in the hall for at least another sixteen hours. AND STOP STEALING MY CANDY.

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