Lawyer Allegedly Bills Client for 30 Hours in One Day:

CBC News reports this; the lawyer is a Mobina Jaffer, member of the Canadian Senate. Nor does this seem like a timekeeping glitch, or some unusual accounting system agreed on with the client:

Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer is under investigation by the Law Society of British Columbia for allegedly overbilling one of her legal clients, including charging for 30 hours of work in a single day, CBC News has learned....

Jaffer has been called before the law society to account for more than $6 million in legal bills charged to her former client, a Catholic missionary order known as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate....

The Oblates, whose B.C. headquarters are based in New Westminster, fired Jaffer and her son, Azool Jaffer-Jeraj, three years ago after receiving bills of $6.7 million. They had hired the Jaffers to defend them against dozens of claims of abuse in residential schools....

The Jaffers settled the lawsuit out of court in December; however, the law society said the case still requires an investigation....

The accounts obtained by the CBC also showed that Jaffer's son once billed for 32.4 hours in a day, at the end of a week in which he claimed an average of 20 hours of work a day....

[B]efore settling with the Oblates, both Jaffer and her son were examined under oath. Jaffer said then that billing for more than 24 hours a day was "an error." ...

Of course, these are Canadian hours, which at the time amounted to only 70% of an American hour.

This reminds me of this installment of "Talking to Americans" discussing the need for Canada to switch from the 20-hour clock to the 24-hour "American" clock.
1.22.2008 3:59pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Psst, Eugene, that joke doesn't work now that the Canuckian Dollar has reached parity with the American. Sad, I know.
1.22.2008 4:10pm
Of course, these are Canadian hours, which at the time amounted to only 70% of an American hour
Yes, only a few years ago we could make fun of the Canadian dollar, the "loonie," because it was worth no more than 70% of a US dollar. Alas, there are few currencies that Americans can be scornful these days.

If Senator Jaffer, a senior partner in that firm, billed $13K for 30 hours of "work," then can we infer that her firm billed the nuns for something like 15,000 of legal services (maybe more if not too much in actual expenses incurred and associates did some of whatever was done on behalf of this religious order)? Aside from the question of how one lawyer can bill for more than 24 hours in a day (unless on a plane flying West to East, or is it the other way), 15,000 hours might be doubtful, might it not?
1.22.2008 4:12pm
Well, perhaps he can persuade the "Catholic missionary order known as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate" that he bilocated.
1.22.2008 4:16pm
TomB (mail):
Why is overbilling newsworthy?
1.22.2008 4:17pm
Ben P (mail):
Aside from the question of how one lawyer can bill for more than 24 hours in a day (unless on a plane flying West to East, or is it the other way), 15,000 hours might be doubtful, might it not?

That's 625 man days. That does seem excessive, but, on the other hand, if 20 or 30 people are working on a case, man hours can pile up awfully quickly. 30 people billing 10 hours a day for a week would be 1500 hours.
1.22.2008 4:17pm
Let me guess: he pulled an all-nighter on a plane flying West?

If you start billing at 12:01am Monday in New York, and fly west to Hawaii later that day, continuously billing your client, and then continue to work all day in Hawaii until 12:01am Tuesday morning, Hawaii time, that'll amount to a total of 24 hours (regular) plus the 5? or 6? hours that traveling to Hawaii will get you.

I always thought those kind of gimmicks never worked, though.
1.22.2008 4:17pm
Scote (mail):
On a related note, I've heard of lawyers who charge one client for driving to court and another for the cell phone conversation while driving.

Or, I've heard of one lawyer who would go through a stack of correspondence for different clients and rather than cc people he would dictate separate short letters and bill each client a 6 minute minimum for 1 minute letters, thereby padding 1 hour's worth of work into a legally questionable 6 hours.
1.22.2008 4:21pm
Well how about if Jaffer was traveling to Singapore to interview a witness for the client, travel time is billable isn't it? And then while she was traveling she was working on the case, or at least thinking about it as she drifted in and out of sleep on the plane.
1.22.2008 4:29pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Maybe she couldn't read the difference between a "2" and a "3" in small hard paper copy print format, and needed electronic format in large print front to see it. Or a good set of glasses, if glasses would work for her.
1.22.2008 4:31pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
corr" "in large print front" = in large print font
1.22.2008 4:32pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
You know the joke about the lawyer who shows up at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter says to him, "You look so good for someone who was over 200 years old when you died."

The lawyer gets a puzzled look and says, "I was only 55!"

St. Peter responds, "Really? We just looked at your billed hours to figure out your age."
1.22.2008 4:40pm
not canadian (mail):
He's Canadian, right? All he had to do was walk way up north near the pole, and then the old routine of "traveling west to rack up more than 24 hours in one day" is just a matter of walking a few steps to his right.

These things hit the news every so often and they are usually sloppy, inaccurate, aggressive time keeping ("reckless") or old-fashioned inadvertence.
1.22.2008 4:42pm
Steve Harris:
This almost certainly an overbilling case but it is legally possible (I assume) to bill more than 1 hour per hour. My first job as a computer programmer was for a long defunct company that did legal billing software. For how long ago - think CPM network. One of the first bugs I fixed was the assumption that 1 hour equals 1 hour. Companies could set a minimum billing increment. 1/4 hour was typical. If a lawyer spent one minute on a client's work it was billed as 15 minutes. At some high powered firms the lawyers would often spend some time calling clients or taking quick calls or anything relating to the client. Each of these would be a 15 minute bill. I worked with some of the actual data and some would have an hour or two during the day where they billed well more than a hour. Of course, this was spread over multiple clients. I think the Jaffers just got greedy.
1.22.2008 4:44pm
Houston Lawyer:
I bill for travel time on those few occasions that I travel for work. If I happen to be working while I'm travelling I don't charge extra. I've never been in the situation of working for one client while billing another for travel time, but I've thought that that situation might justify double billing.

It is very hard to bill 24 hours in one day. You have to have been working at the stroke of midnight and remain working for the following 24 hours. I did this once and it was not pleasant.
1.22.2008 4:55pm
TomB, this is newsworthy, in Canada, because the lawyer in question is a member of the Senate. As a Liberal, she was appointed by a somewhat scandal-ridden former Prime Minister. And with a minority Conservative government in power, a good scandal, or even the whiff of a good scandal, has the potential to stir the electoral pot up.
1.22.2008 5:05pm
If you can bill separate clients for 1 minute phone calls, what about billing the same client for separate phone calls. Tom, I'm gonna be filing a motion to dismiss. Jack, I'm gonna be filing a motion to dismiss. Sue, yeah, that's right, motion to dismiss.
1.22.2008 5:12pm
If you have an arrangement with the client to bill for travel time, it's actually quite possible to bill that many hours with a trip from Europe back to the US. (though that doesn't sound like what happened here)

I wasn't billing a client, but noted to my family that because we were traveling home from Paris on Christmas Day last month that we made Christmas last 33 hours. They noted that sitting in an aluminum tube wasn't exactly the best way to try to make Christmas last longer....
1.22.2008 5:12pm
Double billing is, of course, unethical here in the US. But maybe the rules are different in Canada?
1.22.2008 5:16pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I knew a lawyer who, one day a month, would bill anywhere from 75-125 hours for the day. It was under instructions from the head of the firm where the lawyer worked. She had to file forms for anywhere between 300-500 clients, once a month. The travel time and waiting time to file the forms got billed to each of the clients. Thus, a little under an hour's work could blossom into a very productive day. Her choice, of course, was to report her boss (who would probably get a slap on the wrist, if that), lose her job, and never work again.
1.22.2008 5:24pm
Other commenters have mentioned the main ways to milk the billing system short of outright fraud -- gaming minimum time increments and traveling for client A while working on client B's stuff. I'd be interested to see how Jaffer did it.
For what it's worth, every time I've checked with anyone on the travel A/work B technique, I've been told it's an ethical violation. Not obviously so, perhaps, but it's one of those things where it's more important to have a rule and know what it is than to have any particular rule.
1.22.2008 5:33pm
Her choice, of course, was to report her boss (who would probably get a slap on the wrist, if that), lose her job, and never work again.
I'm unpersuaded that she had no other choice, and I don't think a disciplinary committee would be persuaded of it either.
1.22.2008 5:57pm
I think that a court has ruled on the travel A/work B situation, ruling that an attorney cannot do it. Of course, that doesnt' control in every jurisdiction.
1.22.2008 6:31pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Duffy, I agree with neurodoc. Your friend's real choice was not to go along with the billing fraud, or she could have disclosed the true circumstances of her billing to each of the clients involved, so they could know what they were paying for. She was an attorney and owed an ethical obligation to her clients, regardless of what the partner told her to do.

The member of parliament should get hammered by the Law Society. But, I did appreciate the irony, mentioned in the article, that the lawyer was representing a group of nuns who have taken a vow of poverty.
1.22.2008 6:39pm
Bert Campaneris (mail):
In California you can't bill client B while flying to meet client A. Oo course, you can do B's work while flying and simply sleep in one morning once you return and arrive at the office with some fresh billing.

Fortunately, our rigourous background check and enforcement of ethical rules insures that this type of thing never happens.
1.22.2008 6:52pm
LM (mail):
Isn't it a libertarian article of faith that if a client doesn't like his lawyer working 30 hours a day on his case, it's up to him to find one who will only work 25?
1.22.2008 7:07pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
"Why is overbilling newsworthy?"

Chuckle. Getting caught, in so obvious a scam, is newsworthy!

They had a situation here where a paralegal, who hired out to do probate work for a number of attys, got caught embezzling from some estates, and got sent to prison for a LONG term. Rumors had it that a number of attys were sweating it out, because they'd take her time, paid at a fraction of theirs, and bill it to the clients at their own full rate, presumably on the theory that she was her proxy.

Local federal district rules make it clear that on a motion for atty fees you do NOT bill for travel time. If you worked on the case while on the flight, you can bill for working, but not for travel. I always thought they ought to make some allowance (25% of usual rate) for long travel, airlines, etc., not the drive to the courthouse, so long as you didn't bill anyone else for that time.
1.22.2008 7:39pm
Brett Bellmore:
My uncontested divorce ended up costing something like $5000 thanks to that "billing increment" scam; I paid a half hour for the priciest lawyer in the firm every time a secretary photocopied a page.

Do lawyers really wonder why their profession is so widely hated by people who have the misfortune to interact with it?
1.22.2008 8:06pm
Cheburashka (mail):
At my old firm, I did occasionally bill in excess of 24 hours in a day.

This was not fraud. It was a consequence of the electronic timekeeping system: If you clicked the "start timer" button and didn't reset it at midnight but worked through, then the system would put all of those hours in for the day you clicked the button.

(My new firm's system is smarter.)
1.22.2008 8:09pm
Cheburashka (mail):

Do lawyers really wonder why their profession is so widely hated by people who have the misfortune to interact with it?

Actually, we continue to wonder why it makes economic sense for us to be paid less than hedgefund managers.
1.22.2008 8:11pm
Al Maviva (mail):
Isn't it a libertarian article of faith that if a client doesn't like his lawyer working 30 hours a day on his case, it's up to him to find one who will only work 25?

It all depends on what kind of a libertarian over-billing lawyer you are.

If you're one of Yglesias' 'left libertarians' you're probably a coke-snorting plaintiff's attorney ("legalize it, dude..."), and as long as the hourly rate doesn't 'shock the conscience' of really old wealthy attorneys who are now on the bench, you're cool, brah.

If you're a Chicago School / regulated markets kind of libertarian lawyer, you don't really care what gets charged or if the state bar or courts want to regulate fees a bit, as long as as long as it doesn't discourage competition or raise barriers to entry into the legal market. Well, other than the cost of law school and difficulty of bar exams - you're cool with those barriers to entry because they *totally* benefit the client. No, really, that's what it's about. Benefitting the consumer. Really.

If you're a Hayekian libertarian, you don't worry about it too much. The market will sort itself out at some stage, and you'll probably either get some self-help ("Mergers &Acquisitions for Dummie$") or a cheaper lawyer, or maybe find some way to arbitrage your legal disputes. Whatever happens, it shouldn't be centrally controlled. That'd be the *worst* way to handle it, because once you let the bar association handle fees structures, they'll want to tell you how to do *everything*.

If you're a Randian / Rothbardian libertarian lawyer, you totally support the lawyer taking whatever they can grab, powerfully grabbing what is desired because restraint of the human will is criminal, the way of the weak to triumph over the strong. Perhaps you'll passionately kiss whomever you feel like kissing, especially if it's one of Lat's judicial hotties. And if you get pissed at these legal weaklings, you'll make the court system stop simply by withholding your consent, ie. you won't bother to show up for your hearing, and simply refuse the judge's contempt holding and bench warrant. You will not submit. Screwing the client? What client? There's a client involved? They have interests you're supposed to look out for? Really? Isn't that kind of, y'know, unter-menschy?

And if you're a Pauline lawyer, you have Lew Rockwell write your slightly racist briefs, return phone messages to David Duke, have a bunch of college student interns that LaRouche trained up do the oral argument, usually sort of randomly in public places, and then you send the bill for some work you promised but never quite delivered to a bunch of neo-cons (as in neo-confederates), and then you disavow the briefs and tell the client that you're the only lawyer who is principled and who actually gets the Constitution, so they'd better not fire you and engage somebody else. Oh yeah, and your secretary subcontracts for billboards, sandwich boards, and some shady eastern European internet service provider to spam every email box and website in town in an effort to drive up business.

There, does that sort of explain how different kinds of over-billing libertarian attorneys would think about this situation?
1.22.2008 8:13pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are not nuns. The order happens to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but it is an all male monastic order, established in France in 1816, originally for the purpose of rebuilding the church after the Revolution. At least in our area (northern interior BC) the nuns they work with have been Sisters of the Child Jesus.

The Oblates are still very much in evidence in this area, which is still considered a missionary province. Even the parish priests here in Prince George are Oblates.
1.22.2008 8:25pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Mobina Jaffer was, incidentally, the first Canadian Senator to take the oath on the Qur'an. (And no, this is not a suggestion that Muslim lawyers are particularly prone to over-billing.)
1.22.2008 8:29pm
LM (mail):

There, does that sort of explain how different kinds of over-billing libertarian attorneys would think about this situation?

It certainly does. Well done.
1.22.2008 9:02pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Al Maviva: That was brilliant!

I'm surprised EV hasn't noticed the plummeting value of the dollar -- maybe he has, but was making a dated joke anyway?
1.22.2008 9:54pm
I was a proof reader in a legal dispute in which a worker sued both a union and the union's company over a handbill that was found on a company bulletin board. The case was dismissed after two preliminary hearings.

When we were putting all the paperwork in boxes I saw the billing documents from both the company & the union. The company's legal costs for in-house attorneys was in the neighborhood of $2,400. The union was billed almost $50,000.

That really opened my eyes to the ubiquitous corruption in the justice industry. And that was in the early '90's. Since overbilling is treated almost as a joke these days, the problem has doubtless gotten worse since then.

Her choice, of course, was to report her boss (who would probably get a slap on the wrist, if that)...
Until the Bar stops turning a blind eye to unethical law firms, and begins aggressively going after them, cheating the clients will continue to be practiced by the 99% of lawyers who make all the others look bad. See? Another joke. Ha Ha. But the clients aren't laughing. They know the difference between a rooster and a lawyer: the rooster clucks defiance.
1.22.2008 10:28pm
Is there a rule that requires that certain attonrneys bill by the hour? I don't see too much of a problem with billing clients a certain amount and seeing if they're willing to pay based on the value of services provided.

Is there a rule requiring attorneys to disclose their rate per hour? If not, why can't you just bump your rate per hour instead of your hours in order to get the desired invoice amount?
1.22.2008 10:48pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
neurodoc and Christopher Cooke:

I agree with you that she had an ethical duty not to defraud her clients. She also had an ethical duty to report what her boss was ordering her to do to the state bar.

If she had followed her duty, her boss most likely would have received a slap on the wrist. He was a big deal in the local bar, and as a practical matter, I don't think the bar would have wanted to make that big deal out of this sort of thing. They certainly haven't in other cases where this sort of thing has come up.

She, on the other hand, would certainly have been fired. And she would, almost as certainly, have been blackballed by every other firm in her field. As a second or third year lawyer at the time, by following her ethical duty, I'm pretty sure she would also have been throwing away her career.

How about the law firm where an associate bills 2800 hours, takes over two weeks of vacation, and plays golf on the weekends. (I know of at least one example where this happenned.) The fellow associates strongly suspect that he's cheating. The partners are pleased with the numbers, so turn a blind eye to the facts. The blind eye actually encourages this sort of cheating. What do you think is likely to happen to the associate who actually looked into the billing practice, and then exercised his ethical duty by taking the infraction to the partners, or then to the state bar when the partners ignored him? He'd be fired and become a pariah.

I'm not saying that the consequences excuse a person from following his ethical duty. But you shouldn't ignore what the practical conseqences actually are, either.
1.22.2008 10:55pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

On a related note, I've heard of lawyers who charge one client for driving to court and another for the cell phone conversation while driving.

When the lawyer is sued for the accident he causes by talking on his cell phone while driving, which client does he implead?
1.22.2008 11:01pm
LM (mail):
JosephSlater said,

I'm surprised EV hasn't noticed the plummeting value of the dollar -- maybe he has, but was making a dated joke anyway?

He said, "at the time."
1.22.2008 11:22pm
VFBVFB (mail):
The entire concept of billable hours should go. If I were buying a car, I would not pay more for a Honda if you told me that Honda workers spent more hours assembling the car than workers from Toyota do. I realize that it is harder to value legal services than cars, but still, the notion that fees are based on costs of the supplier of the service, rather than value to the receiver of the service doesn't make much sense.
1.22.2008 11:24pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"I've never been in the situation of working for one client while billing another for travel time, but I've thought that that situation might justify double billing."

How could it possibly justify double billing? You can't work on two cases simultaneously. One billing must be a fraud.
1.23.2008 4:07am
A. Zarkov (mail):
'My uncontested divorce ended up costing something like $5000 thanks to that "billing increment" scam …'

You bet. That together with charging for faxes, and stamps can really run up a client's bill. Here's another scam they use. They bill the client for running a computer program to calculate support payments. The original cost of the program gets billed many times over, plus lawyer time for running the program. Often a secretary or paralegal actually runs the program. For most people a divorce is the only contact they have with a lawyer and they are seeing the system at its worst. You should know that many non-divorce lawyers, particularly at large firms, can't even bill the client for all the hours they put in. This is how you can work 3,000 hours in a year and only have 2,000 of them billable.

The whole divorce industry is a huge scam on the public.
1.23.2008 4:21am
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
I, on occasion, have billed more than 24 hours to a single day without traveling and, I think, quite ethically.

The key is that the convention was that one started one daily time-sheet when one got to the office and started work and then continued recording time until one went home. When one worked an all-nighter for a client, it was not at all rare that more than 24 hours would be recorded on one sheet.

These days, I start a new time sheet at midnight if I am still working, mostly to avoid raised eye brows by clients or stories like Eugene quoted. But I don't think that the old practice was in any sense fraudulent or unethical.
1.23.2008 7:41am
markm (mail):
the lawyer was representing [an order] who have taken a vow of poverty.

So the lawyer was just helping them by taking all that sinful money upon herself, eh?
1.23.2008 9:23am
This guy is so going to hell.
1.23.2008 9:23am
DiverDan (mail):
For those of you who wonder how it is possible to bill for 32 hours in a day, that's a relatively simple task for any second year associate at a major law firm, which regularly demands that associates bill 2200 hours or more per year. I remember 25 years ago as a new associate at a very large firm, I was taught several tricks - the firm billed in quarter-hour increments, and every telephone call got billed. It was not unusual for young associates to try to make as many calls as possible - to clients, opposing counsel, co-cousel, etc. - very early in the morning, over the lunch hour, or after 6:00 p.m., any time when many of the people they called could be expected to be out of the office. You could make 10 or twelve quick calls, only to be told "Mr. Jones is out, he'll be in after 9", or "he'll return after lunch", or "he'll be in tomorrow". An associate could regulary get 3 billable hours out of 20 minute. However, the senior partners were best at this, usually billing every minute they were at the office, often multiple times - I knew of one litigation partner who even billed bathroom breaks to whichever client(s) he was "thinking about" while on the throne.

When I became a shareholder, and was getting my own clients, I was dressed down by the firm for refusing to bill other partner's time for clearing conflicts checks on a new client - I opined that it was just wrong, if not unethical, to bill a client for time spent checking conflicts of interest to determine whether you could even accept his case, but was told "We bill everything!" I remember another partner, who was completely unfazed when a client balked at his billing rate of $500.00 per hour; he readily accepted a reduction to $350.00 per hour, then told me "The client can control the rate, as long as I control the clock."

I think if you looked hard and had access to all billing records (which of course won't happen), you'd find a number of lawyers in large firms in America who, at one time or another, have managed to bill more than 24 hours in a day - but almost all of them are smart enough to spread the time over several different clients. If eight different clients (who don't talk to each other and don't compare bills) each think that you've worked 4 hours that day on their case, the issue simple won't see the light of day.
1.23.2008 10:01am
Larry1 (mail):
I agree with A. Zarkov that "[T]he whole divorce industry is a huge scam on the public."

One of its worst features is that one party is often forced to pay the fees of the opposing lawyer, fees incurred for extracting money from him. That sounds almost like the Chinese (PRC) practice of making the family of a prisoner who was shot pay for the bullets. (I've read this, but haven't seen definitive proof of it).
1.23.2008 10:02am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Duffy: Your friend, at least, should have asked the partner why he thought the practice was ethical, and quit quietly, if she wasn't satisfied that it was. The bar rules might require more, but that seems to be a reasonable solution for a young attorney.

DiverDan: I worked at one of the largest firms in the US, for 7 years. I am familiar with the "bill everything" view, but I didn't follow it, and the attorneys I admired at the firm didn't do that, as far as I can tell. I never (1) billed for preparing bills (2) billed for conflicts or (3) deliberately did the "telephone" game described above. I also often didn't bother to bill for phone calls that were not returned, where I just left a message, because I didn't bother to write them down. My own view was that, in drafting a motion multiple times, that cost the client lots of money, the client was paying us enough. Of course, I was not the top billing associate, but I did have years when I billed over 2300 hours. I just didn't have a life outside of work--to bill that much, you have to work about 3,000 hours-- which is why I left.
1.23.2008 12:02pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
The NY Sun has an article on another lawyer scam, the class action suit business.

If you are an investor and own stocks you will receive a number of letters each year announcing that you are part of a class action suit. If you read the documents you will find them to be depressingly similar. They will tell you that the XYZ Company has agreed to settle a suit for millions and millions of dollars. It will include a lengthy but vague description of the possible refund you can expect to get. In order to get the refund you are asked to provide proof of having owned a certain security on a certain date, often years in the past. And you will find that the lawyers who have brought the lawsuit will get millions, tens of millions and often hundreds of millions of dollars.

My clients will send me these documents asking my advice on what to do, for any records of their proof of claim, and often "what is this all about?" What it's all about is making some law firm partners filthy rich. It's a high stakes game of extortion and a big money protection racket by the plaintiffs bar. The hapless investors get a chance to go through ancient records hoping to find proof so that they can send away and, years later possibly receive a check that will allow them to buy a Big Mac, hold the fries. The lawyers buy an exclusive compound in the Hamptons and a professional sports team.

This phenomenon is one of the most unsavory features of the American legal system. Today the Supremes have done just a little to stop legal a practice that would be criminal if it were practiced by Tony Soprano.
1.23.2008 11:26pm