Maricopa County was understandably upset when they found out Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart had billed them incorrectly.
The county first noticed that they were billed for an associate's time when the work was actually done by a new hire who had not yet passed the bar. Then they noticed that Ogletree Deakins had actually billed two not-yet-attorneys as if they were full associates.
Billing errors happen and while they're upsetting to clients, they can also be fixed. The same error happening twice starts to look like carelessness.
Maricopa County is suing Ogletree Deakins for much more than that.
In a class action suit, the county is alleging 299 errors in their bill. Of those, 227 problems are due to Ogletree Deakins misclassifying lawyers at a higher experience level than the contract authorized, according to the ABA Journal.
It goes beyond billing new grads as associates. The firm also allegedly billed associates as partners and in some cases, as senior partners.
Just to review the rules of attorney conduct, fraud and dishonesty as both clearly listed as examples of misconduct according to the Model Rules. Attorneys have a fiduciary duty to their clients. That requires honesty in all things, including billing.
Sure, times are tough, but systematic "errors" in billing are still a no-no.
Ogletree Deakins has already reimbursed the county almost $78,000 to compensate them for billing problems as reported by the JD Journal. But Maricopa alleges that the true amount owed is closer to $300,000.
That's still less than the amount remaining on Ogletree's bill to the county. The lawsuit was initially filed by the county when they refused to pay the remaining $1 Million on a $5 Million bill.
In addition to the wrongly billed amount, Maricopa County is also seeking to debar the firm. If they are successful, Ogletree Deakins won't be able to contract with the county for three years.
- Should Law Grads Be Billed as Associates Before Passing Bar? Issue Raised in Ogletree Suit (ABA Journal)
- Time Master + Billing App: Is it Worth Your Time? (FindLaw's Technologist)
- We Paid for What?? Fraudulent Billing Suit Filed Against Blackwater (FindLaw's Legally Weird)