A veteran LA lawyer has alleged that onerous billing requirements were the key reason behind his dismissal from a law firm. In a damages lawsuit filed on 9 December at the Superior Court for the State of California, plaintiff Richard Unitan claims that the minimum number of hours he had to log while employed by Adelson, Testan, Brundo & Jimenez was unachievable.
‘When he started work, Plaintiff was told that he was required to bill a minimum number of hours, which isn’t surprising in the legal field,’ said Unitan’s legal papers. However, they alleged, ‘The billable hours requirement was set at 3,000 hours per year, or 250 hours per month. Plaintiff was told that everyone in the firm had this same requirement. To say that there was pressure on Plaintiff to make this minimum billable requirement is an understatement … he was supposed to make these hours regardless of the number of cases to which he was assigned.’
The suit stressed: ‘Firms do not require 3,000 billable hours of their lawyers because this goal is virtually impossible to achieve with accurate and honest billing practices.’ But the suit further claimed that such practices were not in vogue at the firm. ‘The culture required attorneys to get creative about their billing,’ it added. ‘And by “creative”, Plaintiff alleges that there was a good deal of fiction put into billing statements.’
Unitan, who has at least 35 years’ experience as a lawyer, was fired from Adelson in June. His lawsuit claims that his failure to meet the monthly quota of 250 hours, due to an unwillingness to creatively inflate his time allocations, prompted the firm to accuse him of being unprofitable – and eventually, to let him go.
Unitan’s suit recalls a similar case covered by NewLegal Review last year, in which Ohio lawyer Kristin Ann Stahlbush was suspended from the Toledo Bar Association for artificially racking up her billable time – sometimes to levels in excess of 24 hours per day. Both cases indicate that the billable hour continues to be an unwieldy charging method that legal services clients could be forgiven for distrusting.
Nonetheless, Adelson has entirely refuted Unitan’s allegations, telling the LA Daily Journal that his suit is a ‘desperate fabrication’.
‘Nobody here commits billing fraud,’ it said.
For further NewLegal Review coverage of hourly billing, click here and here
Demand for paperwork trickery claimed as leading factor in attorney’s firing