Bill Ross, Professor of Law Cumberland School of Law

In 1991, 1994-95, and 2006-07, I conducted nationwide surveys of attorney billing practices. The results of those surveys are posted in the following links. The results of my 1995-96 survey are analyzed in detail in my book, The Honest Hour: The Ethics of Time-Based Billing by Attorneys (Carolina Academic Press, 1996), and the results of my 1991 survey are discussed in my article, “The Ethics of Hourly Billing by Attorneys,” 44 Rutgers Law Review 1-100 (1991). I plan to analyze the results of my 2006-07 survey in a publication later this year.

Two hundred and fifty one attorneys responded to my most recent survey, which was conducted through Reed Business Information, which generated a random sampling of attorneys who worked at law firms throughout the United States.

The results of my 2006-07 survey are in many ways quite similar to my earlier surveys, which indicated that a distressingly high percentage of attorneys believe that time-based billing results in bill padding and provides incentives for attorneys to perform unnecessary work. For example, approximately two-thirds of the respondents to the 2006-07 survey and 1995-96 surveys stated that they had specific knowledge of bill padding. Moreover, the attorneys who responded to the most recent survey seemed, on the whole, to be less ethical in their billing practices than those responded to the earlier surveys. For example, 54.6 percent admitted that the prospect of billing additional time had at least sometimes influenced their decision to do work that they otherwise would not have performed, compared with only 40.3 percent in the 1996 survey. Similarly, the percentage of attorneys who admitted that they had engaged in “double billing” rose from 23 percent in 1996-96 to 34.7 percent in 2006-07. The percentage of the attorneys who believed that this practice was unethical fell from 64.7 percent in 1995-96 to only 51.8 percent in 2006-07, even though this practice has been condemned by the American Bar Association and most commentators who have discussed the issue.

The most recent survey also disclosed interesting attitudes towards attorney billing guidelines, which 55 percent of the respondents reported that at least some of their clients have. Of attorneys who expressed an opinion about the effectiveness of billing guidelines, only approximately 12 percent believed that they significantly help to control costs, while 12 percent thought that they actually increase costs. More than half believed that they have little or no impact.

Attorneys who responded to the survey also offered many interesting narrative comments, which I have not posted, but which I will discuss in my publication about the survey.
 




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