Padding Hours: If I Did It

Matthew Richardson Columns, Lawyer 33 Comments

Question: What do you get when you mix an unscrupulous partner trying to bilk a deep-pocketed client out of every last dollar and an associate who has to make his billables so he can pay off his $15,000 credit card bill and put a down payment on a Manhattan apartment?

Answer: Billable hours that get more padding than an NFL lineman.

In December, I was in what some people might call a predicament. I was close to hitting 1950 hours, the minimum for triggering my bonus. But I had a vacation coming up to South America that I didn’t want to miss, not even for $40,000. I also had a review that was not so stellar. I “wasn’t maximizing my utility,” which I read as code for bill more hours, whether you work them or not.

Is it illegal to overbill? According to the “law,” yes. Is it unethical? According the ABA “code of ethics,” yes. Is it something that I truly believe many, many associates feel pressure to do? Absolutely. Of course, this story is one big HYPOTHETICAL because, like O.J. Simpson, I obviously wouldn’t want to incriminate myself, so add a “maybe” before every verb.

It’s December 14, and I’m at 1850 hours for the year, 100 hours away from putting a down payment on a one-bedroom apartment and getting the Visa people off my back. But our billable requirement for the bonus is a bullshit all-or-nothing proposition. And since I’m going away December 23, that leaves nine days to bill 100 hours. All I have to do is be completely unethical. Not a problem.

Our firm has a policy of entering your time every three days, or is it three weeks? I can never keep track. But, either way, that leaves the door wide open for some creative accounting.

What if a non-lawyer tried to earn a living by simply checking his email records and giving it his best guess? I can just picture an escort filling out her timesheet.

Let’s see, three weeks ago, hmm, I had to replace my black, lace garter belt. Guess someone had the special.

Yeah, right. Only lawyers and general contractors could come up with a billing system that leaves such a wide margin for interpretation.

I started trying to hazard my best guess at what I did three weeks ago by saying to myself, “Well, it felt like a 60-hour week.” Of course, I don’t even know what I ate for breakfast this morning, so I will fully admit this is very unscientific.

But as I dreamt of my junior-four waiting for me, a partner took me by surprise by not only supporting my criminal activity, but also giving it his full support.

“Matthew, why are you under billing on the SUCKER CLIENT deal?”

“Um, I just felt like it took me way too long to get that document out. Maybe I was distracted, sorry.” Bill Simmons’ podcasts can have that effect on people, you know?

“Matthew, I know you’re working hard, but it doesn’t show it in your hours,” he said. “Don’t ever feel like you have to cut your own hours. Leave that to me. Are we clear?”

Cut my own hours? Am I being Punk’d? I would never, ever, ever do that. However, I’m pretty sure the partner was getting at something here. Has anyone ever been given this speech before? It is my understanding that it loosely translates to let’s take these idiot clients to the cleaners.

So I went back to my blank December entries and did the fuzzy math. For the hours I thought I had worked for SUCKER CLIENT, I multiplied by 1.5. Then I added 10. That’s basically the equation you use when trying to figure out how many guys your girlfriend has slept with.

In any case, new math got me to 1963—bad year for President Kennedy, but a good number for me. I was all set to go to West Elm for some new furniture.

Unfortunately, this was 2008, an extremely unpredictable year in many ways. Nobody even knew if we were getting bonuses, and, if so, the amount was certainly still up in the air.

It all came crashing down about two days before my end-of-year trip. Partner strolled right into my office demanding to know how he was going to explain my excessive hours to the client! Huh?! Aren’t you the guy who told me to mug these guys in the first place? Was he suddenly schizophrenic?

“I need to cut your hours by at least 30,” he said firmly, betraying not even a glimmer of his shameless billing hypocrisy.

“How about we call it four, and I’ll invite you over for a housewarming at my new apartment?” That’s what I wanted to say. Instead I went with, ”Um, but, um, but, actually, well…. I see.”

So I cut back my hours by 40, bringing the grand total to 1933—bad year for America, bad number for me!

Fortunately, there were just enough hours left in the year—if I billed every waking minute—to salvage my bonus, but there was absolutely no work. I checked in with three other partners, and even a few associates, to see if they needed me to fill in on something.  Anything. I even called the New York pro bono person, but apparently there is a whole procedure that includes a conflicts check, a billing code, getting a partner to sign off, etc. As it turns out, you can’t just go to Home Depot and start building a homeless shelter just because you want to meet your hours.

So I gave up. I had broken and then unbroken the law only to still fall short.

(Technically, we never submitted my fantasy numbers, and therefore, I was guilty of no act at all. Or, have we reached the Minority Report pre-crime stage? I haven’t done my CLE yet this year so I don’t know.)

I went to South America shy of 1950 and tried to forget my bonus by drinking all the rum I could get my hands on. And then some.

Upon my North American return, I found out bonuses where very low anyway—half of last year. So even if I had gotten one, after taxes, I would have been way short of my dream apartment and a zero-balance on my credit card. But it’s not like I’m happy that a crummy economy and an ethical partner kept me from breaking the law.

In fact, if I had done it and pulled it off, I would have been thrilled. My commitment to this place, this profession and the law starts and stops at the water’s edge of my salary and bonus. I work long hours for one reason alone—money. You may think that’s unethical—and maybe it is—but at least I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not one of those M&A guys who talks till your head explodes about how I really went to law school to help people. I don’t like people; I like money, and to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, billing is good. Just like O.J., if I did it—well, I’d have a better apartment.

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  • Alex Hump

    At least this yutz did the right thing.  It’s like a woman wearing falsies.  Men spend a lot of money on a woman, with drinks, dinner, dancing, and clubbing, all with one intention–to get to those cans…..and more.  What a friggin’ disappointment it was for me last year, after bringing a dame to the Capital Grille for steak and lobster, followed by drinks and dancing at the Rainbow Room (now to be closed, but not after lifting over $100 from my wallet), followed by a late nite in 2 Chelsea clubs.  When I finally got her back to her apartment, those 36” boobs transformed to a 15 year old’s 32” lumps.  As a result, I was forced to spend most of my time downstairs, which wasn’t all bad, but I feel like I spent a whole lot of money on half a loaf.

  • Anonymous

    So is Matthew a regular writer now?  cool!

  • Pacific Reporter

    It’s only wrong if you get caught.

  • Al Dickman

    Bad to Pad Bills; also bad to pad Boobs and Keesters.  Regarding Mr. Alex Hump, I do not think you have any real beef here, particularly since you got some return on your investment,.  So don’t complain too loudly.  I am not sympathetic.  There are plenty of men who spend a lot more money than you and wind up with squat.

  • BL1Y

    Alex: First of all, for a 36 to go to a 32, you’d have to shrink her rib cage.  Padding only adds to the cup, so she could have gone from a 36C to a 36A.  Second, why would you spend so much money on a girl you haven’t had sex with yet?  Fancy dinners shouldn’t be used as a bribe or an investment, but as a reward for good behavior, or just not used at all.  Third, Capital Grille?  That’s where you take girls you want to impress?  Too bad it screams “I’m trying to impress you with this fancy, expensive, completely uninteresting restaurant, because I know you won’t be impressed with my looks, intelligence, or conversation.” Bad play.  In the future, just take the girl to a place you really enjoy eating at.  If you actually enjoy steak and lobster at Capital Grille, I suggest you petition Michael Estrin to add an 8th way to spot a d-bag lawyer.

  • Ex-BigLaw

    This is one of the things that drove me out of BigLaw notwithstanding a decent shot at the ring.  I was informed during half of my reviews not that I wasn’t working enough, but that they knew I was working plenty hard and efficiently and more than I was billing, and that I was just not writing down enough time.  Now, I actually WAS self-cutting a bit for days when I got distracted web surfing or whatever, but that’s a part of exercising reasonable/honest judgment on the client’s behalf, and the pressure to bill, even if it meant padding, was so clear, and felt so slimy, I don’t know how these people live with themselves.  The rule is apparently, basically, not bill as much as you work, but bill as much as you can get away with.  The absurd hours requirements that have evolved over the past 15 years have turned the entire profession on its head, making the average firm lawyer into a thief – billing 8+ hours a day every business day of the year, no sick time, no vacation, no slow days, is just unrealistic and begs for invented hours.  It makes me sad.

  • Anonymous

    “bringing a dame to the Capital Grille for steak and lobster, followed by drinks and dancing at the Rainbow Room”?
    Who are you, Joey Bishop? Here’s a tip, sugar tits–Goodfellas was a movie.

  • Alex Hump

    Sorry guys, all I know is that when I pulled off her blouse and padded bra, what was left at least 4” less than what she was advertising.  Who knew that BL1Y was a tit man!  As far as my choice of restaurants, I thought this was classy, but I guess others would wow their babes elsewhere.  Relating to when you shell out the big bucks on a babe, it’s interesting to read that BL1Y can bone a babe BEFORE spending any money on her, but I, unfortunately must “play to play”.

  • BL1Y

    Alex: Have a little more faith in yourself.

  • Anonymous

    Is it any wonder why everyone hates lawyers….this guy should be arrested for fraud.

  • Alma Federer

    Personally, I would love to have a guy wine and dine me.  There are not many chivalrous men left.  BL1Y sounds like a wham, bam thank you ma’am kind of guy, and that is not what I go for.  Besides, who needs a guy to wack off and leave–what do we get out of that?  Nada.

  • BL1Y

    Alma: Paying for your food is not chivalry.  And, if you kept up with the plot, you’d know that I just don’t get in and out as quickly as possible.  I have a girlfriend, and while I do pay a bit more than her (we usually alternate buying meals), our expenses are roughly proportionate to our incomes.  Treating someone with respect and as an equal seems a lot more chivalrous than pretending that a woman with a job still can’t manage to take care of herself (this would be known as “sexism”).  But, when I just get in and get out (which I’ve of course done in the past; occupational hazard, and as often her choice as it is mine), I can assure you I usually do more than just whack off (I don’t need a partner to accomplished that, thanks).  And as far as I know, women also enjoy sex, so that’s what you get out of it.

  • chad_broski

    Padding hours is a fact of life, and I don’t think it’s all that problematic when you factor in all of the free time clients get from their lawyers. Aside from the hours lawyers spend actually sitting in front of their computers researching, drafting, editing and the time spent in court or during negotiations, the time lawyers spend thinking about a case does not stop the moment they leave the office. Clients are not charged for the time you spent thinking about their case in the shower, or as you lay in bed at night, or driving in your car. Often this is when the best ideas arise. If a client thinks a lawyer’s services are too expensive, they can go get another lawyer. “Hours worked” is at best a very inaccurate way to determine how much a service is worth, but until a better model is developed, it’s what we’re stuck with for now.

  • Bill Dugan

    Chad, I get my best legal ideas while putting the blocks to my girlfriend–thinking about specific legal issues that would otherwise be billables also serves to delay ejaculation, and preserve the experience, so the client is getting his money’s worth and, at the same time, my girlfriend is getting much sorer than she might otherwise get, all thanks to my “pro BONO” undertakings.  Win / Win for her, me and the client, and it doesn’t cost any money.  That’s a lesson for BL1Y.

  • BL1Y

    Thanks Bill, I’ll be sure to remember to think of legal issues while I’m putting the blocks to your girlfriend.

  • chad_broski

    Yes, thanks Bill for rounding out the list of places where billable work is done but not captured. You may want to get your girlfriend certified as a consulting expert – that way you can double bill the blocks without being unethical.

  • Alma Federer

    BL1Y, don’t let your girlfriend know you’ll be asking Bill’s girlfriend to put lipstick on your dipstick.  Of course, she may need a magnifying glass to find it.  You men really objectivize us.

  • BL1Y

    Alma: Your criticism would have a little more punch if you didn’t already admit to using men as a source of free meals.  I don’t objectify the women I have sex with.  I have no interest in having sex with an object.  I’m only interested in having sex with real life, flesh and blood people.  And (when there’s some choice) I prefer women with a good personality.  They make the experience much better.  Even in a one night stand personality can matter a lot.  Personality also affects your technique a lot.  And yes ladies, you have to do more than just lie there.  A good sense of humor can help when those inevitable awkward screw ups occur.  If after the act I find occasion to shout “Out, out, damn spot!” I would really prefer that the girl understand the joke (and then get some stain remover).  So please, don’t accuse me of objectifying women when it seems like you’d be content to date an ATM.

  • Alma Federer

    I don’t know how you can say all of that–you don’t know me at all!  But like most men, your main desire is to “put the blocks” to us women; and you don’t even want to spring for a meal!  What does that make you?  Personally, I wouldn’t have sex with a man just because he paid for dinner; there has to be some real attraction before I will let a man have sex with me.  I also have to get to know the man.  So maybe I am different than the women you have sex with, but I am not old fashioned by any means.  I suggest you reserve your unit for your girlfriend.  You wouldn’t want to bring home any “surprises” to her.

  • BL1Y

    What does it make me that I enjoy sex with women and don’t feel like I should have to pay for it?  I guess it makes me fiscally responsible.

  • Bill Dugan

    Look at this article from today’s Bloomberg.  My sympathies, Hump.  For this kind of snatch, I would expect a whole lot more than a flat chested false advertisement. 
    The Ciprianis should be banished from

    the Rainbow Room. They should apologize for desecrating one of

    Manhattan’s great sky-high vistas with sky-high prices for

    airline food.

    My crummy three-course dinner for two cost $621, including


    As it turns out, I may get my wish—minus the apology.

    Earlier this month, landlord Tishman Speyer Properties LP served

    the Ciprianis with an eviction notice, claiming they hadn’t paid rent. The Ciprianis countersued, and a judge ordered the restaurant to remain open at least until Jan. 27.

    Before you think about paying a farewell visit, however, let me recount two recent meals, one at the bar, the other for dinner and dancing.

    The art deco landmark, which opened in 1934, sits atop Midtown’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The elevator ride to the 65th floor makes your ears pop. It lets you out into a hallway, where you’re greeted by a host.

    Then you see the view. You see the skyscrapers: The Empire State building. The Bank of America building. The Chrysler building. The Citigroup Center. The Conde Nast building. Floor-

    to-ceiling windows frame the city like a life-size museum exhibit.

    Then you see the Cipriani name and logos. On the bar napkins. On the menus. They want you to remember who runs this place. When you see the prices, you won’t forget.

    Great Martinis
    “House” wines are $15.50 a glass. “Premium” selections, including Beringer White Zinfandel, cost $20.50. (A bottle of this stuff retails for about $5.99.)

    Daiquiris are $20.50, Martinis $21.50. To be fair, it’s a good daiquiri; with fresh, tangy lime. And it’s a great Martini, icy cold with spicy juniper notes exploding on your tongue.

    The Ciprianis, citing the economy, have closed the Rainbow Grill restaurant. Instead, light a la carte fare is available in the bar area. Yes, the space has always been more about the view

    and the prices will always be high. But nothing excuses this food, which ranges from mediocre to miserable.

    Oysters on the $44 seafood platter tasted foul. Shrimp were overcooked. Crabs were impossible to crack. Is there a cracker available?


    A chicken club sandwich, no better or worse than at a local deli, costs $24. Crispy onions had a musty aftertaste reminiscent of attic dust. Even the undersalted bar nuts were lousy.
    Prom Date
    Dinner and dancing, offered every other week or so, is like your senior prom, which is another way of saying an excuse to get dressed up for great dancing and an awful dinner. And there are

    few singles here—that means no shady types try to steal your date.

    Patrons approach the dance hall, only to be sent back to the coat room (down the hall, to the right) by a humorless host in a frayed tux. Better follow the rules.

    Couples tango and waltz. A live band plays. There is canoodling in front of the killer view of the city. We were led to the back of the bustling room, near the wait-service stand.

    Pans clashed. Servers dropped stuff. We shouted at them in a vain attempt to order more drinks. They ignored us.  Pumpkin cannelloni tasted of pasty canned baby food and mushy pasta. Terrible. A passable tuna tartare was spicy and

    cool. Broiled lobster had good oceanic flavor—it’s hard to screw up lobster.

    Filet mignon begged comparison to a version I had during a transatlantic flight to Moscow in 1999. Crepes were soggy and an apple tart tasted like cardboard.
    $25 Snapshot
    Cost? $200 per person for three courses, drinks not included. A photographer offers to take your picture. For $25.

    Then the captain approaches. He tells you a 20 percent gratuity will be added and reminds you there’s space on the bill for a “captain’s tip.” No way—but even after you stiff him,

    you will have spent about $513 for two before drinks.

    Sure, you want to fall in love with the Rainbow Room while dancing to “Moonlight Serenade.” The band should come back. The

    patrons should come back. But the Ciprianis, who continue to offer high-priced amateur hospitality after a decade at the helm,should leave.  The Rainbow Room is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza at 49th Street.

    Information: +1-212-632-5000.

  • Alma Federer

    BL1Y, for being so “fiscally responsible”, maybe you should join the TARP team in DC.  Even tho they’re working for the FEDS, those guys probably get free meals since they’re working so late every nite.  It sounds more like you just don’t want to shell out a few bucks, but still want to stain a girl’s mattress.  But Not mine, thank you!

  • lawtp

    Richardson – another funny one, dude.

  • BL1Y

    Alma: Yes.  I have found girls who realize that we can have a mutually beneficial good time which does not require either of us to bribe, pay, or otherwise reimburse or compensate the other.  I’m sorry if this shakes your world view, but not all women are so shallow and bigoted as to think that sex is a favor women condescend to give to men.  Some women actually enjoy men for our company and anatomical differences and require no other incentives to spend time with us, in or out of the bed.  I’m glad that I’ve met many women who think of men as their equals, intellectually, professionally, and sexually, and I am even more glad that there will never be any occassion to stain your sheets.  So, in conclusion I’d just like to state that (Bill Dugan) you can get a much cheaper, very decent view of the city from atop 230 5th Ave (go early, have one drink, then ride out the night at a dive pounding $4 pints), and that padding bills is wrong, but so is getting drunk on every day that starts with a T: Tuesday, Thursday, Tomorrow, Today, Thaturday, and Thunday.  YEEHAW!

  • John

    How do any of you people ever get laid?  I’m guessing partners with low self-esteem. . . maybe a lawyer fetish. . . .
    As for the billing, you have to keep your time contemporaneously.  You can’t rebuild it.  You lose too much time if you try to figure out what you did yesterday, much less three weeks ago.  There’s no trick.  Just keep up with your time any way you can – time sheet, calendar, dictation, separate laptop used for time entry only, back of a napkin – whatever it takes.

  • Alma Federer

    I see what you are saying, BL1Y, but can’t agree.  There is nothing wrong with being a gentelman, and that means treating us like a lady, not a streetwalker.  You guys are whining over the size of our breasts and everything else associated with sex.  What about us women?  What do you think we are getting?  So many times we stay silent, after great expectation, when some so-called stud either can’t get it up b/c he’s too drunk, he comes after 30 seconds, or his self-promoted hot zucchini turns out to be a little more than a shriveled peach (that is unresponsive, or comes after 30 seconds).  So you see, we are not just here to service you, but to be willing partners who want to have a relationship afterwards, not never hearing again from you after we have given you our bodies and hearts.  If I sound a wee bit defensive, maybe it’s because I have learned these lessons the hard way.  I now respect men who treat me nicely without the expectation of sex on the first date–guys who will go out of their way for me (as I would for him); guys who will not be afraid to reveal their inner feelings rather than just acting like a detached dick.  In my book, you really have to be a “nice guy” before I will let you into my heart.  There is more to life than scraping up after some dude after he has his way in my bed, burps, and walks out the door.  If I want more out of life, I stand guilty, but I will be damned if I just sit back and casually give myself to any douche who is walking around with a penis.  Nearly all of the men who comment on this site typify the type of men I will NOT date (let alone mate with).

  • BL1Y

    Alma: If a guy buys you dinner in hopes of having sex with you, he’s not treating you like a lady, he’s treating you as a whore.  And when did I ever complain about breast size?  Please try to remember that not all men are the same (this is known as “sexism” in the common parlance).  We post under different names because we are different people (except for that other person posting as BL1Y).  And finally, if you’re going to accuse me of being shallow for complaining about a woman’s inadequate breasts, don’t follow up said accusation with your own complaint about inadequate male anatomical structures (this is known as “hypocrisy”).

  • Damone

    good article

  • da man 1777

    one time i took a big dump in my partner’s office corner. It was there for like a week, he didn’t notice

  • Criag

    Another excellent article. Keep writing.

  • Anonymous Woman

    I feel sorry for the amateurs here who haven’t figured out how to keep from staining the sheets.
    Great column … reminds me of all those hypocritical professionalism seminars from partners at Big Law firms I’ve had to sit through for CLE ethics credit. AS if.

  • anonymous

    This commentary is sad.  No wonder lawyers are hated and companies cannot be confident their bills are true and their interests are protected with these misoginist psychos running around Manhattan.

  • vpynchon

    I need my bonus or to pay my credit card doesn’t even rise to Chris Buckley’s “yuppie Nuremberg Defense:  I have to pay the mortgage.” REALLY??  REALLY???  For these reasons you’d even CONSIDER stealing from your client?  Why not just reach your hand into some random cash register till or open a friend’s wallet and grab a hundred from it?  And when I said to my associates “are you sure you’re billing all your time?” it was NOT an open invitation for them to make up time they never spent doing things they never did.  It was a genuine question based upon my own associate experience where the time I spent seemed like too much time for the task.  And my partners said, “let me decide whether it’s too much time or not” and it never once, not once, occurred to me that they were encouraging me to “pad” my hours (a morally neutral term for thievery).  Really.  Unless you’re repentant for even CONSIDERING theft from your client, you should feel ashamed.