Time to Pay the (DLA) Piper

A series of emails in a fee dispute lawsuit involving DLA Piper and a former client are spurring a national conversation over how law firms bill their clients, particularly among corporate general counsel who regularly call on large firms such as DLA. The controversial emails, which contain such troubling passages as “churn that bill, baby” and “that bill shall know no limits,” were written by three DLA attorneys who no longer work at the firm. Despite their new jobs elsewhere, their emails have left a messy legacy as potentially damning evidence favoring the firm’s former client, who was sued by DLA for more than $675,000 in unpaid fees before he filed a counterclaim seeking $22.47 million, or 1 percent of DLA’s reported 2012 revenue.

Overbilling is something that most firms discourage and prohibit, but there is no question that it happens. Corporate in-house lawyers feel the same way, as demonstrated by the never-ending struggle between corporate law departments and their outside counsel over monthly invoices.

The controversy over the DLA emails will likely continue given the heartless and greedy language that’s included, despite the fact that DLA now says the emails were “an offensive and inexcusable effort at humor, but in no way reflect actual excessive billing.” Given that the firm is facing a lawsuit claiming more than $20 million in damages, the truth of those unfortunate statements will now    be tested in a court of law.

This episode surely hasn’t done any favors for DLA, or any lawyer that sends a client an invoice, for that matter. But as every lawyer surely knows, you can get away with bad behavior only for so long before you get caught. And other lawyers will always be there to make sure that the victims receive recompense.   

And they’ll probably be extra careful with their billing, too.    

 

Posted: 4/1/2013 12:00:00 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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