July 07, 2020 Top Story

Overbilling Leads to Disbarment

Lack of contrition tips the scales against an overzealous invoicer

By Susan F. Dent

An attorney’s inability to explain his large bills, coupled with prior discipline for overbilling and his lack of remorse, was enough to warrant disbarment. The state supreme court ruling serves as a stark warning to attorneys to substantiate their bills. ABA Section of Litigation leaders say this is a reminder to be proficient and prudent when informing clients of anticipated costs of litigation, and to execute only those services necessary and required to reach the client’s objective.

The lawyer was disbarred for billing his client approximately $120,000.

The lawyer was disbarred for billing his client approximately $120,000.

Credit: stockcam | iStockphoto by Getty Images

A Cautionary Tale in Overbilling

In The Matter of Richard Ledingham, the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey affirmed an order of the court’s disciplinary review board that disbarred the trust-and-estates attorney Richard Ledingham. Dr. Robert Binder retained Ledingham to draft a second codicil to a “Last Will and Testament and First Codicil.” A different lawyer had drafted that document.

After Dr. Binder died, his 88-year-old widow retained Ledingham to represent her as executrix of the estate. The retainer agreement provided for a rate of $175 per hour. Over the period of a year, Ledingham billed 674 hours, for a total of approximately $120,000. After paying $88,199 in fees, his client began to refute the charges. The lawyer attempted to settle the issue and to reduce his fees. Ultimately, he forgave the remaining fees.

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