Legal reform starts with the lawyers - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Commentary

Legal reform starts with the lawyers

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Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 11:00 pm

The United States has 70 percent of the world’s lawyers but only 5 percent of the world’s population. U.S. industry spends billions of dollars annually on litigation costs and efforts to avoid liability. The U.S. has 30 times more lawsuits than Japan, one of America’s primary trade competitors. Product innovation in America is drastically curtailed due to overwhelming liability concerns. My industry of health care delivery has costs that are spiraling out of sight, leaving many Americans under insured or uninsured. The cost of virtually every good and service has an increased cost, reflecting the cost of rampant litigation in this country.

Folks, we do not require health care reform, we required immediate legal reform in the United States. If you want to see the U.S. become competitive in the global market, we must institute immediate legal reform. U.S. business is burdened with billions in unnecessary legal regulation and frivolous lawsuits. If you desire to see your health care premiums decline dramatically, allow us to practice medicine and rid ourselves of the constant threat of litigation.

 

How did we get in this mess?

The majority of our elected officials are attorneys. We are to blame for electing attorneys to govern this nation. We have now elected an attorney as president. In the 109th Congress, 218 members (160 representatives, 58 senators) list their occupation as law. My native state of Wyoming has only one attorney elected to Congress. One of our U.S. senators is an orthopedic surgeon. U.S. law schools produce more graduates each year than medical, dental and veterinary schools combined.

 

Fraudulent billing

Research indicates that fraudulent attorney billing costs the consumer hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Why do we not have audits of law practices on billable hours? Why are law firms not accountable?

There are many anecdotal accounts of billing abuses by lawyers. Perhaps the most well known recent case is that of Webster Hubbell, former chair of the Arkansas Bar’s ethics committee and a partner at Little Rock’s prestigious Rose Law Firm, who went from No. 3 in the Clinton Justice Department to prison. Hubbell was convicted of stealing $394,000 from his clients and his own law firm by billing for time he never worked.

Another flagrant example of gross billing abuse involved a prominent Chicago lawyer in a large and prestigious firm, who averaged 5,941 billable hours per year over four years. That equates to an average of 16 hours and 20 minutes per day, every day, 365 days a year. The lawyer claimed to have never taken a day off in four years.

Indeed, the justification that “everybody does it” is widely used in the legal community. “The problem is not so much the behavior of one lawyer,” says Professor Bogus, “as it is the conduct of the firm.” If attorneys believe that they can ethically “multi-task,” by billing two, three or more clients for the same hour, or bill for the “value” of their services, even when that value vastly exceeds the time the work actually takes, lawyers like Kirby will continue to be the inevitable consequence.

 

Stop the bleeding

So how do we stop the bleeding? First, do not elect any attorney to public office. That includes City Council, county commissioner, school board, state Legislature and Congress. We eliminate attorneys and replace them with actual experts in industries such as education, engineering, health care and finance. We change the composition of our elected offices to business professionals instead of attorneys.

Secondly, do not reelect any judicial appointment. Judicial appointments are not career institutions. The judicial system needs to change every election so we do not have career policymaking judges.

How do we address the fraudulent billable hours by attorneys? We institute a CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) and audit program for law practices. We institute yearly audits of law firms’ billable hours performed by non-legal folks. The audit firms are incentivized to discover fraudulent billing by instituting financial incentives based on the fraud they discover. The law firms pay the audit fees just as we do with our outside accounting auditors in a real business.

The vast change is the implementation of CPT codes much like the health care industry and auto industry. For example, when you take your vehicle in for repair, the auto industry has a shop manual that instructs them how many hours they can charge to complete a procedure. The same is true for the health care industry. We eliminate fraudulent billing in the legal profession because they can only bill for a certain CPT code and not pad their billable hours.

Let’s say you and your spouse desire to have a simple will drafted by an attorney. The simple will has a CPT code associated with it and the attorney can only bill you for that amount of time. The CPT code makes money for the efficient attorney because they can complete the work in less time than the CPT code allows. The inefficient attorney will loose money and either become efficient or seek another profession. The consumer has won!

We demand accountability in every profession except the U.S. legal profession. It is time we are competitive in the U.S. by eliminating the constant threat of legal action. We institute an immediate audit and CPT code system, which will eliminate fraudulent billing and make attorneys accountable. We change the make up of our legislative bodies to include business experts in health care, education, transportation and manufacturing. The U.S. consumer wins and we create thousands of jobs for the U.S. economy.

 

Professor Domman is a health care expert, award-winning speaker and author. He lives in Ahwatukee Foothills and is founder of Frontier Group, Inc. Reach him at brion@intermntiom.com.

 

Editors note: In Ahwatukee Foothills, of all the elected officials voters can select, from City Council up to President of the United States, only two are attorneys: Sen. Jon Kyl and President Barack Obama.

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