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Cheating is common with attorneys and the system of billable hours encourages attorneys to cheat their clients by overbilling.

Studies show that:

1. Two-thirds of attorneys say that their firms overbill.

2. One-third of attorneys admit to double billing clients.

3. More than half of all attorneys admit doing unnecessary work so they can bill more hours.

The bottom line is that if your family law attorney is billing you by the hour you are likely being billed for work that was unnecessary, work you already paid for, or work that was not done at all.

The reason overbilling is rampant is because most family law firms do not have enough clients. They need to overbill - or they will not make a profit.

When you hire an attorney, you can protect yourself by knowing how you could be overcharged:

1. Bill Padding or Overbilling (otherwise known as fraud): The easiest way for attorneys to cheat you is to pad the bill - or over-billing. This is a simple process - you charge for work you did not do. You took one hour to write a memorandum and bill three hours. You spend fifteen minutes in court and bill two hours. One attorney billed three hours (over $1000) to drive to the court to retrieve a document.

2. Creative Billing:  With creative billing you bill for work that wasn't done - you make it up - or you bill for work the client was already billed for. You just describe what you did differently, so it is not clear to the client that they have already been billed for this work.

3. Double or triple billing: If you hire a firm, with partners and senior and junior associates, you will likely have more than one attorney working on your case. Each one will need to read your file, so they understand your case. You could be billed by all attorneys working on your case for doing the same work. 

4. Charging excessively high rates: You will most likely be charged $350 to $400 or more by your family law attorney. Check out the law school they went to – probably a poorly rated law school like Western State, La Verne or Whittier. They are not good enough attorneys to justify this high rate.


5. Charging full rate for simple paperwork: A lot of the paperwork attorneys do is simple paperwork that the secretary or legal assistant can do. You are just transcribing information. Some firms have attorneys do this paperwork, charging full rate.

6. Excessive communications with your attorney: Attorneys bill for every communication between you and the attorney; the opposing party and your attorney, and with anyone else involved in the case.

7. Billing you for training new employees: Rather than train new associates to do the work right, many firms let the attorney learn on the job. With this system it takes more time for the new associate to complete the task, allowing the firm to bill more hours, costing the client more money.

8. Inefficiency: Work is not assigned or completed efficiently in law firms. Communications between attorneys in a firm can be difficult. Files are often not complete. Senior associates or partners assign the work but make no effort to help with the process. Time is lost as attorneys working the same case struggle to get all the information they need.


9. Failure to use technology: Attorney often won’t use technology that it available. You can call into court instead of driving, saving your client money. But it means the attorney makes less. Covid was tough for many attorneys because it forced them to work remotely, saving time and money - for the client.

10. Charging the deposit to your credit card: Most people do not have $5000 or more to pay a deposit to the attorney. But you will notice that family law attorneys take Visa or MasterCard. They don’t charge you as they bill though, they charge you the entire $5000 (or more) up front. The client pays 17% or more interest each month to the credit card company as the money sits in the attorney's account.

Cheating is rampant and it is very difficult to know when you have been cheated. This is why I will not use a system of billable hours or work for an attorney who bills by the hour. 

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