Lawyers charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services. They can justify doing so because not only have they invested in years of education, but they maintain offices with professionals supporting their legal practice.
Most lawyers are transparent about hourly billing rates and how they charge clients. They will provide regular invoices, especially if they have assessed cost against someone’s retainer or need payment for hourly services rendered.
Occasionally, clients will reach the conclusion that their attorney has inappropriately padded the bill and charged for far more billable hours than they performed. Is this an actionable form of legal malpractice?
Yes, overcharged clients can potentially take action
Lawyers have certain ethical obligations to clients, not the least of which is to provide a professional standard of representation and legal advice while also engaging in appropriate billing for the services rendered.
The lawyer in question should have informed you when you first hired them what kind of increments they use for billing. They should track how long they spend on different aspects of your case and provide a detailed breakdown of what the costs they charged you for represent. If your lawyer charged you for an hour of work when they typed a two-line email, that could be a sign that they have padded their invoice.
However, they may have an explanation: The hours included reading the very long email from opposing counsel and reviewing the evidence attached. It is important to look at the full explanation for services rendered and why the charge is so high. If a lawyer cannot justify the amount of time they claim to have spent, their actions may leave them open to claims by the overbilled clients.
For example, an attorney claiming to need to research what is basic information in their area of specialization shouldn’t charge for hours of research on a question another attorney could answer in the five minutes.
How do you prove questionable billing practices?
Asking for detailed records is often an important step when you suspect financial misconduct by a lawyer. A careful review of what they claimed to have spent time doing for your case can help you determine if they intentionally padded their invoice to overcharge you or if you merely underestimated how much effort they had to invest in your case.
Lawyers who intentionally overcharge clients put profits ahead of their obligation to those clients. Spotting possible signs of legal malpractice can help you defend against a lawyer who violated your trust or did a poor job of representing you.