Billable Hours

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The ABA Journal reports on an attorney who is working harder than is humanly possible:

“An Ohio lawyer has been suspended for overbilling local courts for her representation of poor clients, submitting bills for more than 24 hours a day on three different occasions.

The lawyer, Kristin Ann Stahlbush of Toledo, will be suspended for two years, with the second year stayed if she completes a one-year probationary period, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

According to an Ohio Supreme Court opinion (PDF) issued Tuesday, Stahlbush billed the courts in Lucas County for more than 24 hours a day on at least three different days, and more than 20 hours a day on five other occasions.”

This brings to mind the story of the lawyer who dies and appears outside of the gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter hails him and says that he has never greeted a lawyer of his advanced age.  The lawyer responds that he had just been run over by an ambulance he had been chasing and was only 37 years old.  Saint Peter replies that according to the attorney’s time sheets he is 7,728.

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  1. One year suspension seems awfully stiff. Does that mean she cannot practice law in Ohio for a full year?

    She served as a court-appointed attorney in the juvenile courts, so I might have gone lighter. From the court’s opinion:
    In mitigation, the board found that respondent has no prior disciplinary record and that she is known by clients, peers, judges, and magistrates as a competent, hard-working attorney who represents her clients zealously.

    And this:
    When confronted with the excessiveness of her fee requests, respondent initially maintained that she had worked every hour that she had billed. … Ultimately, she conceded that while she worked long hours, she did not maintain such a schedule.

  2. She cannot practice law for one year. I would have voted to disbar her. She is a careless thief who initially attempted to lie her way out of her situation. This is not simply a case of sloppy record keeping, but rather someone who is too dishonest, and dumb, to be an officer of the court.

  3. The thought astonishes me too restrainedradical, but since Saint Thomas More and a few others have accomplished it, it is possible!

  4. I’ve legitimately billed days in excess of 20 hours. I’m not saying it was my most efficient work, but if you have an imminent deadline, it’s certainly possible, it not pleasant.

    Days longer than 24 hours are, of course, objectionable.

  5. I’ve come close to 20 hours in a day Listless on occasion. Sometimes I haven’t billed my clients the last two or three since fatigue degraded my ability to concentrate and extended the time I had to give to what I was working on.

  6. I was checking out the fee schedule for Ohio court-appointed lawyers (page 14). It’s $50/hour if I’m reading it right, which I suspect is well below the rate lawyers in Ohio would usually charge.

    So, the money just does not come across to me as a strong motivator for theft, and I’m willing to believe that sloppiness in recordkeeping is possible. Also, if she is going to lie, why claim more than 24 hours in a single day?

  7. “Also, if she is going to lie, why claim more than 24 hours in a single day?”

    That’s where the dumb factor comes in Spambot. This was not an innocent mistake, or she would not have attempted to claim that she actually worked those hours. Her poor rate of pay would actually be an incentive to pad the hours charged. I assume that she was a private attorney appointed by the court to do that type of work. I am occasionally appointed by the court to be GAL for kids, appellate counsel for indigent defendants, and trial counsel for indigent defendants. I try to keep accurate records of my time in those cases. I realize it can be difficult in a busy day to do so, but in this case I doubt if the attorney in question was making any effort to do so.

  8. “Sometimes I haven’t billed my clients the last two or three since fatigue degraded my ability to concentrate and extended the time I had to give to what I was working on.”

    To my mind, Donald, that is reasonable – provided that the client (or, when I was an associate in a large law firm, the billing partner) was not the cause of the unreasonable deadline that forced me into crunch mode. To my way of thinking, if you make me work a 20 hour day, then you should pay for that. If my poor scheduling caused the crises, then that’s obviously on me, and a write-off is appropriate. In my experience, the former situation was far, far more typical than the latter.

  9. Sounds like the way my manager when I used to work at JC Penney did her schedules. She’d put the same person to work in two departments at once, or to work two shifts in a row. If you asked a day off, she assigned you to work that day. If you said you couldn’t work Sundays, she’d schedule you on Sundays every week. Oddly enough, she always seemed to be on vacation.

  10. Unfortunately GodsGadfly one of the curses in life is working for a jerk. One of many reasons I am glad I have been self-employed for the last quarter of a century.

Comments are closed.