Although legal fees are required to be reasonable — and it’s unethical to charge an unreasonable fee in most jurisdictions — this rule is not enforced literally. Most bars shunt ethics complaints about fees into fee arbitration and ignore or reject all complaints, except the most egregious examples. As a practical matter, the bars pretty much have to do this — fee complaints would swamp the bars and make lawyers (who usually pay dues that fund the bar) very unhappy.
Here’s a rare example of a lawyer who was sanctioned by a state supreme court, acting as the head of the state’s legal ethics system, for inappropriate billing practices. The types of billing issues found here are quite common for anyone managing legal fees, as we do. These practices are a problem, but they are rarely challenged as ethics violations. Even for a fee dispute that is litigated, there are plenty of lawyers who still try to bill in the same fashion that got this particular lawyer in trouble — and many lawyers get away with these tricks, especially if the client fails to object or change lawyers. Continue reading