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Ethics complaint: BigLaw attorney fudged hours over ‘perceived’ billing expectations

A lawyer who worked at two BigLaw firms in Chicago is now facing an ethics complaint over allegations that he exaggerated the number of hours he worked on client matters.

The lawyer, Christopher Craig Anderson, was an associate at Kirkland & Ellis in the firm’s intellectual property transactional group before joining Neal Gerber Eisenberg where he became a non-equity partner two years after joining the firm, according to the ethics complaint filed with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

The complaint describes Anderson acting in an attempt to meet “perceived” bill expectations at the two firms. Whenever Anderson felt he hadn’t billed enough hours, he increased the number of hours he claimed to spend on the task based on several factors, including the likelihood of the client objecting to the recorded time. For example, if he spent 20 minutes on a client matter, Anderson would record that he spent half an hour, or would bill slightly over an hour for work that took under 45 minutes, the ethics complaint states.

“(Anderson’s) inflation of the time he spent on client matters (…) was false, because he had not actually spent all of the time he recorded, and the firms billed, on client matters,” the complaint states.

Neal Gerber looked into Anderson’s billing practices and is in the process of offering a credit or refund to more than 100 clients who may have been affected. That amounts to more than $150,000, or 20 percent of Anderson’s recorded time that was billed or paid by the firm’s clients, the complaint states.

Kirkland & Ellis is also in the process of offering refunds or credits to clients.

Even though lawyers at big firms are often under pressure to meet billable hour targets, intentionally over billing is uncommon, experts told American Lawyer.

“I see a lot of overbilling going on, but a lot of times it’s inadvertent,” said John Conlon, a legal ethics expert and former chair of the Indiana State Bar Legal Ethics Committee, American Lawyer reported. Sometimes mistakes involve billing for something that cannot be billed, such as clerical tasks, Conlon said.

“I think it’s pretty rare that people consciously overbill,” Adam Smith Esq. partner Janet Stanton, a legal industry consultant, told American Lawyer. “I choose to believe in any industry, that includes Law Land, that 99 percent of people are trying to do the right thing,” she added.

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