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Are aggressive billing practices a form of legal malpractice?

Lawyers go to school for many years and have to maintain licensing from the state to practice law. Their advocacy and advice can make a significantly positive difference for those running businesses, facing lawsuits or at risk of criminal prosecution. Their failures can also lead to poor outcomes.

There are very specific professional standards that lawyers need to meet. They should disclose conflicts of interest, understand an area of law before offering guidance to clients and otherwise comport themselves in an ethical manner, for example. Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who violate their moral obligations to their clients. One way that lawyers may do their clients a disservice involves aggressive and inappropriate billing practices. In some situations, the way that lawyers bill their clients could constitute legal malpractice.

Bill padding and time rounding are questionable choices

Most lawyers charge hundreds of dollars per hour for their time and bill their clients for every email, phone call and court appearance. It is reasonable for a lawyer to expect full and appropriate compensation for their time spent on a case.

However, it is not appropriate for lawyers to artificially inflate how much time they spend working on behalf of a client. For example, some lawyers will charge a client for half an hour of their time when sending out a two-sentence email. Such practices can burn through people’s retainers and leave them with massive bills when they receive minimal support from the attorney.

Other times, lawyers will round their billable time up substantially. They might work for 25 minutes and then charge a client for an hour of their time. Clients often need to review their agreements with their lawyers carefully to determine how attorneys set their billable time increments.

When clients have reason to believe that attorneys have overcharged them and drastically increased how much time they’ve billed for, that may constitute legal malpractice. Clients who have paid far too much for legal representation can potentially take the matter to civil court. Pursuing a legal malpractice claim can both reimburse clients who have overpaid because of an attorney’s bad billing practices and push a lawyer into changing their billing habits to make them more ethical.