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Whether law firms “pad their bills” and the trend in perceptions of that

From Inside Counsel, July 2007 at 58, its latest survey of in-house counsel and law firms asked for the third year in a row the views of in-house and external counsel on the statement “Most law firms pad their bills.”

In 2005 36 percent of the in-house lawyers agreed with the statement, 37 percent disagreed and the remainder were neutral. Last year, 42 percent agreed while 33 percent disagreed; the latest survey found that 39 percent agreed and 37 percent disagreed.

Bear in mind that the number of law department respondents has grown steadily, from 295 two years ago to 407 last year (about 200 were general counsel) and to 862 this year (40% were general counsel). Thus this year more than doubled the number of previous participants from law departments and doubled the percentage who are general counsel survey (See my post of July 16, 2005 on the first survey; and Aug. 26, 2006 for the second survey and questions on this particular statement.).

Over three years the distribution of responses has remained remarkable stable. Mistrust of bill padding runs deep. However, a “neutral” response might mean that the lawyer has no view on this issue – which leans, in my mind, toward not agreeing that padding is rife — or that they believe the situation is too close or too complicated to oversimplify to yes or no, or even that they don’t care about the issue at all, which leans toward “disagree.”

Third, the number of respondents who agreed dropped! It dropped about eight percent, from 42 to 39 percent! Assuming the shift is not attributable simply to margin of error, how can the magazine hold this finding out as a bad situation when a much larger and higher-ranked population expressed a non-trivial improvement in their views?