A Lesson in Ethical Attorney Billing

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A lawyer stands at the gates of heaven and pleads his case to St. Peter. “I’m much too young to die. I’m only 48.” St. Peter responds, raising an eyebrow: “Forty-eight? Not according to your time sheets.”

Unfortunately, some attorneys give the rest of the profession a bad name for abusing the billable hour system.  Take for example the sole practitioner in Massachusetts, Attorney Derek Beaulieu, who was recently suspended from the bar for four years for having billed more than 3600 hours annually to only a handful of clients.  To put Attorney Beaulieu’s billing into perspective, 3600 billable hours would require that Beaulieu actively bill clients in excess of 24 hours each day during a five-day work week. Someone is in serious need of a vacation or a lesson on ethical billing.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts suspended Attorney Beaulieu for four years and ordered that he make restitution for excessive billing.  According to the order, the attorney’s bills “were inaccurate and greatly inflated, and/or simply false.” The decision also mandates that Beaulieu repay his former clients and may not reapply to practice law until he has paid his clients in full.

Granted there are certain pressures upon members of the legal profession to meet formal or informal billing goals.  However, the ultimate goal must be geared toward the best interest of the client.  All attorneys should follow a system of best practices intended to provide the client with the best product; a product that must include fair and ethical billing.