Risk Updates — Judicial Conflict Allegation, Roberts Rules of Order, and End of Year Billing Risk & Audit Advice

Happy 2020. Thought I’d kick off the year by catching up on several stories that were sitting in my virtual clipping pile that didn’t quite make it into December.

Pa. Judge Says Old Bill To Firm’s Partner Doesn’t Create Bias” —

  • “A Pennsylvania state court judge overseeing class action cases in Allegheny County said Thursday that a decades-old legal bill from his days as an attorney didn’t bias him against his former client’s law firm of Carlson Lynch, which has brought numerous class actions in state and federal courts.”
  • “…when he was a lawyer in the early 1990s, he had represented Carlson Lynch partner Bruce Carlson, whose firm was now representing the proposed class of thousands of UPMC employees. Judge Ignelzi also told them that to the best of his recollection, Carlson had not paid his bill for that representation, but he emphasized in a special hearing Thursday that he did not believe that old obligation biased him against Carlson Lynch in the cases he had heard or would hear in the future involving the firm.”
  • “Judge Ignelzi had asked his former partner, Michael Murphy of Ogg Murphy & Perkosky PC, to search the firm’s records for any information about its representation of Carlson. Under questioning from the judge Thursday, Murphy said it appeared that the file had been either thrown out or irreparably damaged when floods in the 1990s soaked old records that were stored in the basement of the building along Downtown Pittsburgh’s Monongahela riverfront.”
  • “Judge Ignelzi said he had made the disclosure prior to an October hearing on UPMC’s preliminary objections because the Pennsylvania rules of professional conduct required him to disclose any potential conflicts, even if he felt they did not rise to a level that would disqualify him.”

Both sides file motions in Powers lawsuit” —

  • “In his complaint, Powers asked the court for a temporary and permanent injunction against the Board of Selectmen, alleging the board did not, on a number of occasions, follow Robert’s Rules of Order for making a motion and thus 37 motions made by the board in 2019 must be vacated and future motions must follow Robert’s Rules and other provisions of town policy.”
  • “In his Oct. 30 motion, Powers requests Berchem Moses P.C., of Milford, the law firm representing the defendant, be dismissed because of a likely conflict of interest. Powers claims Ira Bloom, the town attorney for Wilton, and a partner with Berchem Moses, is a necessary witness in the suit regarding information Bloom provided to the Board of Selectmen about requirements about receiving/responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.”
  • “In their Nov. 27 objection, the defendants say there is no conflict of interest with Berchem Moses, based on the Connecticut Practice Book’s rules of professional conduct which delineates what constitutes a conflict (primarily conflict an attorney has with another client).”
  • “They claim the defendants’ interests are “aligned” and Berchem Moses’ representation of the defendants is not adverse ‘to any other client or a significant risk that representation will be limited by responsibilities to another client.'”

3 Places Overbilling May Be Lurking” —

  • “Over the last two decades or so, sophisticated buyers of legal services have tightened up billing standards, poured money and time into auditing, and routinely questioned what they’re getting for all those “0.2 hour” line items.”
  • “At the same time, courts and the bar have also become far more strict about what constitutes a “good” — and ethical — legal bill and helped cure the profession of at least some of its worst timekeeping habits.”
  • “The practice of block billing, in which lawyers include a long series of billable tasks in a single time entry, is widely understood to lead to client “upcharging” and has been rightly disparaged by many judges and bar ethics committees.”
  • “Still, practice group leaders and supervising partners should double-check that block entries are used consistently and moderately. That’s particularly true in the last months of the year, as associates, and many partners, feel pressure to bill every hour possible.”
  • “Kay Holmen, a senior auditor at KPC Legal Audit Services in Glendale, California, cautions against grouping more than three tasks in one block, or block billing a client for more than a single hour per entry. Lawyers can also avoid pushback by taking some extra care to describe each step covered by a block entry.”
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