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Large Numbers of Law, Week of 2/13/12

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Who would have thought that billable hour inflation would follow a bimodal distribution?

The intuitive prediction is that very few people would have perfectly clean, not at all dubious billables; most people would fudge a little bit, but probably in the <10% or 10-30% range, and then numbers would taper off as you approach the more serious levels of fraud.

When we conducted our poll about how many of your billable hours were dubious [Rounding up 2 minutes to 0.1 hours, unnecessary research, billing two clients for the same travel, describing stapling papers as "preparing documents for trial," and straight up fraud.], there was a large grouping in the cheat-a-little ranges, and less as you get higher. But, the two highest categories caught us by surprise.

24% of you said that you didn't fudge your billables at all. We admit a bit of a mistake in creating the poll (and it wouldn't be scientific either way) in that we didn't include a category for people who do flat fee billing. So, we don't know if those people answered they don't fudge billable hours because they can't, or if they didn't answer the poll because it didn't apply, or if they picked a category that reflected the flat fee equivalent: halfassing.

The next highest category was the other extreme. 21% answered that more than 150% of their billable hours were dubious, a claim which is itself dubious, and could either refute or confirm their response.

The rest of the responses were pretty much as expected, 19% said less than 10%, and 20% said that 10-30% of their hours weren't on the up-and-up. After that, it trailed off.

This leaves us with the question of what the average rate of dubious billing was, so we took a weighted average. Now, we're dealing with ranges, so what we did was just take the average of each range. None at all = 0%; <10% = 5%; 10-30% = 20%; 30-50% = 40%; 50-75% = 67.5%; 75%+ = 87.5%; 150%+ = 100%.

The result is that 34% of billable hours are in the grey area, or beyond. Don't feel too bad though, that's probably close to the rate of discount your client is going to ask for. In the end, it all evens out.

Except of course, as we learned on the latest episode of Blind Drunk Justice (Season 3, Episode 2), there are a few people who under bill. We have no idea how to factor that number in.

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