Padding new

It's hard not to inflate, when others are doing it

More than a third of lawyers admit to inflating their time sheets, as revealed in the results of a RollOnFriday poll.

Following a story about a solicitor being struck off for "inaccurate" time recording, RollOnFriday asked lawyers whether they ever pad their time sheets. 

35.5% of the respondents admitted that they have been guilty of adding time that hadn't been incurred, at some point in their careers. Thirteen percent admitted they did it regularly, 12.6% confessed to being "occasionally" culpable, while around 10% said it was something they had done, albeit "rarely". 

One RollOnFriday reader said that it's "not just law firms" that are guilty of uplifting, as it's common in "any professional practice where time is being sold to clients". 


Colin Passmore, the chairman of the City of London Law Society, responded to the poll, saying: “Clearly this is not a practice I would condone … I would expect people to have regard to their obligation to act with integrity.”

Despite the results, many clients won't easily be taken for a ride, as readers have told RollOnFriday that many clients do query bills. When the clients don’t, it’s usually because they’re happy that they’ve got the result they wanted at a price they think reasonable. 

And if some associates pad their time it doesn’t mean that it always ends up on the bill. Client relationship partners, on the whole, aren’t that foolish, and do end up going through the narratives.

At the heart of the issue, seems to be a common gripe that the chargeable hour is an opaque and outmoded means of charging. There would be no temptation for lawyers to pad time if their firm simply quoted a fair rate for the job from the start.

One RollOnFriday reader suggested that clients only had themselves to blame if they don't insist on fixed fees and capped quotes. "It's your fault, in buying services from a competitive industries with hundreds of providers, in giving the lawyers a blank cheque," they said. "Only an idiot would instruct a law firm without insisting on a cap or a hard estimate."

In RollOnFriday's In-House Lawyer Survey last year, one client in a bank, said that firms should "move away from the billable hour" as "it makes private practice lawyers work insane hours, give unrealistic estimates, write off huge amounts of time, and impedes their progress and job satisfaction." They noted: "I don't know anyone at my company who would accept a time-based bill. It's all fixed or capped fees."

Another in-house lawyer agreed: "Embrace fixed fees and alternative fee arrangements. The billable hour is dead for us, including in litigation." 

"Kill the billable hour," said a head of legal in retail. "Firms say we will do fixed fees etc but their whole remuneration, targets and promotion structure is based on the billable hour."

If you're an in-house lawyer, you can have your say on fees and more in the survey below.

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Captain Obvious 12 April 24 09:01

Lawyers are INCENTIVISED to pad. They’re given ridiculous target hours to meet and are told: if you meet the target, you get paid more - if you miss the target, we need to discuss your job prospects. It’s the same way that bankers in the financial crash were incentivised to take massive (foolish) risks. 

Captain Even More Obvious 12 April 24 09:25

So the solution is not to pay lawyers astronomical salaries just because the US firms do?

@ Captain Even More Obvious 12 April 24 09:54

The US firms are probably the most egregious time padders out there. 

You regularly read of US partners claiming to be billing 3,000 hours a year. 

I reckon that's almost impossible without time padding.

MC junior associate 12 April 24 10:40

I suspect that only a minority of lawyers (albeit a large minority) engage in straightforward padding, i.e. creating time entries which simply don't correspond to reality. But almost all lawyers I've ever worked with carry on "soft" padding - keeping a timer running while chatting with colleagues or reading the paper, billing for reviewing documents whilst simultaneously billing for sitting in on a meeting at the same time, rounding up the time taken for tasks to round numbers (hours and half-hours), guesstimating the time taken to complete tasks retrospectively and erring on the side of caution, dragging your feet over things so that you bill twice as much as you theoretically could have.

Is any of this done with an intention of defrauding clients? No. Is it clearly incentivised by a system which encourages high utilisation? Yes. Is it, within a strict interpretation of the rules, incorrect? Yes. Are those rules absurd, rarely-observed and not in alignment with real practice? Also yes.

Everyone does it 12 April 24 10:48

Time padding is astonishingly common, in reality I expect nearly every lawyer has done it. The lawyer who who got struck off was very unlucky. In my firm, if the time costs were less than the capped fee, and where we had agreed to bill the client the lower of time costs and the capped fee, one of the partners would come around before billing and tell the layers to “put some more time on”. It was all done openly. For another partner, where we were billing time costs (no cap), but say with a discount, you would go to the partners office and he would get the times records/billing in the screen. If it was higher than he thought he could bill, he would say “”don’t record any more of your time up to closing  - put it down as admin,” (so his files recovery rates would still be good); if it was lower, he would say that bill should be for X (giving the actually number), so you can put down 8 hours a day for the next 4 days up to closing. 

Anonymous 12 April 24 11:48

I worked extremely hard to bill 1700 hours for 2 years in a row. Lots of late nights. Occasional weekends. 


Then discovered 9-to-5 colleagues billed the same. The cause? Time dumping. One person would log 6 hours for reading particulars of claim drafted by counsel! 

City no More 12 April 24 12:27

Agree with most of the comments on this and just how widespread it is. But, take issue with the statement

"And if some associates pad their time it doesn’t mean that it always ends up on the bill. Client relationship partners, on the whole, aren’t that foolish, and do end up going through the narratives."

Simply doesn't happen in most cases that partners will spend time going through the narative. Also, in US firms, it is definitely frowned on to write time off as it goes to partner realisation rates which are a carefully scrutinised metric. 


Nightstalker 12 April 24 16:04

Working in a niche field in which  projects are subject to tightly drawn budgets, I am generally required to work on fixed or capped fees.  These are agreed in advance with clients and then made subject to engagement letters that are drafted as carefully as possible.  Mission creep can occur but is necessarily managed tightly by both the clients and me.


Donny Darko's Soundrack 15 April 24 05:34

Yes of course it is fraud. It's just one small part of the profession having more or less completely lost its way in the pursuit of ever higher salaries and drawings. 

It will be interesting how seriously firms take this SRA decision which can only sensibly be taken as an absolute statement of zero tolerance of padding by the SRA. The obligation to self report is very clear...

Anonymous 15 April 24 16:58

Don't worry.  It'll all be done by AI in a few years and you'll all get your integrity back.


Worth more than gold.


Hurr hurr hurr  😁

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