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Professional Lawyer Symposium Issues

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To illustrate the importance of ethics advisors playing an active role in building a law firm's ethical infrastructure, this article focuses on ethics problems related to hourly billing. Ethics experts who have studied hourly billing recognize attorneys' reluctance to report billing misconduct, In the book, THE HONEST HOUR, Professor William G. Ross refers to the inclination of attorneys to close their eyes when they suspect billing irregularities. Professor Lisa G. Lerman made a similar observation in noting that firm attorneys who share income may "turn a blind eye to misconduct" by another firm attorney.' Both Professors Lerman and Ross recommend that firms establish ethics counsel or ethics committees to provide a channel for reporting billing misconduct and to address other problems associated with hourly billing. Specifically, Professor Lerman has identified three initiatives for in house ethics advisors and ethics committees: (1) establishing written policies on billing practices and reimbursement for expenses, (2) training all firm attorneys and support staff on billing practices and other ethics issues, and (3) encouraging all firm employees to report possible misconduct to the ethics committee, and ensuring that those who report are protected from retaliation for raising questions.