Law Firm Sues Associates For Not Billing Enough

Don't give Biglaw any ideas!

Stereotype Rich Man Posing With Money Bags,Counting Dollar BillsIf you’re a frustrated M&A associate watching your bonus slip away because the economic downturn robbed you of precious billable hours, take heart that’s all you’re losing!

Out in North Dakota, the law firm of Larson Latham Huettl sent bills to two former associates alleging “overpayment” when the associates didn’t bill enough. The firm took both to court and won — both cases are on appeal (which you can check out here and here).

The key language from the firm’s employment agreement reads:

Hours Billed Discrepancy. In the event that Associate bills out less than the base quota for a three month [sic] period, the Associate’s salary will be reduced appropriately at the discretion of LLH in order to make up for any discrepancy. Any discrepancy where the actual hours billed is less than the base hours required will be considered to be a debt owed by Associate to LLH at the end of the calendar year or at the termination of employment.

Let’s just take this language in a vacuum.

And… what in the actual fuck? This is some real “owe my soul to the company store” nonsense. In a functional society, the remedy for not keeping your hours up is getting fired. If folks aren’t bringing money into the firm, the job of a boss is to cut them loose or accept it. But under the terms of this agreement, the firm is actually best off keeping people on the payroll, knowing that the partners get paid either way.

During a pandemic slowdown, hiring associates to not work and then billing them for their “debt” later would be a reasonably lucrative business model!


But, wow, it’s an objectively awful one.

[UPDATE: Story updated to remove a paragraph regarding the timing of the agreement that wasn’t relevant to the conclusion. At publication I was under the impression that this provision was in a later amendment to the agreement and not the original 2019 one.]

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.