Skip to main content

The Lawyer's Lawyer

Lawyers Helping Lawyers Avoid the Perils of Professional Discipline

Mile High Profits

Q. I regularly fly to depositions for a client that pays for my time in transit. If I work on another client's case during the flight, may I bill that time as well?

A. Before researching this issue, I would have said, "why not?" After all, you could choose to watch a movie or read a magazine on the plane and still bill for your travel time. Why not use the time productively and make the flight even more profitable?

Though I see no ethical problem with this practice, the rest of the world seems to disagree. According to the American Bar Association, "A lawyer, who flies for six hours for one client, while working for five hours on behalf of another, has not earned eleven billable hours." According to the ABA, this is no different than a lawyer double-billing his travel time to a court where three appearances are scheduled for the same afternoon, or a lawyer spending an hour to research an issue that applies to more than one client and billing both for the same effort.

Unlike these situations, you are not planning to bill more than one client for the same effort. Stuck on a plane, you are simply seeking to work harder than you have to, expend additional effort on behalf of another client, and bill for it.

Sadly, my personal opinion won't get you too far. If you depart from a view unanimously held by the ABA and every other ethics committee that has considered the issue, you're in for a rough landing. Financially at least, only the client may benefit if you decide to work on the flight. "Rather than looking to profit from the ... desire to get work done rather than watch a movie," the ABA believes that the lawyer "is obliged to pass the benefits of these economies on to the client."

Despite this uptight and locked position, the ABA stopped short of imposing a duty upon traveling lawyers to work whenever possible. But the extent to which a lawyer may bill for unproductive travel time is still up in the air. While many firms bill it at their usual hourly rates, some courts have cut this rate in half when awarding attorney's fees, and many corporate clients and insurance companies require that their counsel do the same.

Regardless of your hourly rates, one thing seems clear: You're not allowed to bill more than one client for one time-slot. So until your state adopts my contrarian view, enjoy the in-flight movie. Just make sure that My Cousin Vinny doesn't show up on your time sheets.

The Ethics of Intimidation
Fee Splitting

Related Posts

Attorney Grievance defense attorney specializes in defending lawyers in disciplinary proceedings before the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission and the D.C. Bar's Board on Professional Responsibility involving professional misconduct, legal ethics, disbarment, suspensions of law licenses, petitions for disciplinary action, reprimands and sanctions for unethical conduct. If you receive a letter from Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless, Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox, or from any attorney disciplinary board in Maryland or the District of Columbia, retain experienced attorneys with expertise in lawyer discipline and breach of ethics cases to avoid sanctions for professional misconduct. We help lawyers avoid disbarment, suspension, reprimands, censure and informal admonitions by drafting responses to client grievances and ethical complaints; representing lawyers in peer reviews, evidentiary hearings, and oral arguments before the BPR and the Court of Appeals; filing petitions to reinstate an attorney's license to practice law; conducting law firm ethical compliance audits; and drafting legal ethics opinions to protect lawyers from ethics charges. In many cases, disciplinary proceedings may be dismissed, dismissed with a warning, or result in a conditional diversion agreement with Bar Counsel to rectify misconduct. Lawyers may need help in managing their law firm attorney escrow IOLTA trust account and complying with attorney trust accounting rules to avoid charges of ethical misconduct. Do not represent yourself in responding to an attorney grievance, law firm client complaint, or other allegation of ethical impropriety. Attorney grievance defense counsel may help you comply with legal ethics rules, avoid sanctions like suspension or disbarment, and avoid future attorney grievances.


By The Lawyer's Lawyers | Kramer & Connolly and Irwin R. Kramer who are responsible for the content of this informational website.   This website is designed for lawyers faced with attorney grievances. As cases do differ, past performance does not guarantee future results.