Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Churn That Bill, Baby!

The good folks over at Law360 just wanted to let us know that the major firms are having no problem keeping their attorneys billing--I mean busy. If you don't know about Law360, it's a legal news source that sends blast emails with the day's latest legal news. They have a strong big-firm bias.

For quite a while now Law360 has been touting the virtues of all the recent Supreme Court decisions and their impact on patent litigation. For the last several months, about every other Law360 news blast seemed to be announcing that so-called "patent troll suits" are starting to wane due to recent Supreme Court's decisions, such as Alice and Octane Fitness.

For instance, in October, Law360 was proud to announce that year-over-year patent suits were down about 40% in September of 2014. Again, in February 2015, Law360 reminded us that the trend in patent litigation filings is definitely downward. That trend pretty much sums up new patent suits since about 2013.

So I and others have been wondering: "How long before the big firms start twiddling their thumbs?" Guess we have our answer now.

Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

On Friday, Law360 blasted their preemptive announcement: "Don't worry, the big firm lawyers are still busy even though patent suits are way, way down." According to Law360, the 20% reduction in lawsuits has had "virtually no effect" on "attorney workload"--which should be read "attorney billings."

That assertion is just flatly unbelievable on its face. What idiot believes that attorneys are just as busy when 20 percent of their new work vanishes. And yes, I said idiot.

Well, I'm no idiot. I am an active patent litigator and I know exactly what's happening. I talk to clients and my friends in other firms. The statement that big firm lawyers are just as busy with patent litigation despite 20 percent less work is, to put it frankly, bullshit.

Wonder why this Law360 piece reminds me of a post I wrote a little while back when a big law firm was caught churning its client's bills. In that piece, a client and his firm got crosswise, and a bunch of the firm's internal emails were revealed. In those, the lawyers were celebrating how high their bills were with snippets like this one:
Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard Vince "churn that bill, baby!" mode.
So when the big-firm lawyers say things like "we have 20 percent fewer cases to work on, but we're billing our clients the same amount," does that scare you? If you are a client of one of those big firms, it should.

I'll tell you what I think (in case you haven't already figured it out). That Law360 article is just the product of attorneys whose hubris prevents them from admitting that they aren't really sure where their new work will come from, but they don't want anyone else to know.

So my final question is this: How long before Law360 reports that (surprise, surprise) the "major firms" have announced some new layoffs in their patent litigation departments? Or even better, how long before we see this headline: Major Tech Client Sues Patent Litigation Firm Over Exorbitant Billing Practices?

Like I said, I'm no idiot.