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Too Bad This Bill Wasn't an April Fools' Joke

Two thousand-dollar dinners, a four thousand-dollar-plus bill for cell phone roaming charges -- all buried in a 112-page invoice for over $600,000 in legal fees. Sounds like some kind of an April Fools' joke about greedy lawyers, but it's not.  To the contrary, as this TMZ article reports, those charges appeared on California attorney Debra Opri's invoice for services provided in connection with her  former client Larry Birkhead's efforts to gain custody of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, whom he claims to have fathered.  [Hat tip to Crime and Federalism for the article].

Opri's bill serves as a template for what lawyers shouldn't do when invoicing clients.  The bill includes multiple, extravagently priced meals that Opri shared with other lawyers, where Birkhead wasn't even present.  And while presumably, Opri and her colleagues at least talked about Birkhead's case at these meetings, most clients will wonder how much business is really discussed in the course of a fancy dinner. 

In other cases, Opri's bills reflect poor inefficient business choices that clients are unlikely to continue to subsidize.  For example, Opri billed for $4,000 in roaming charges for time spent in the Bahamas.  Surely, in this competitive market, less expensive cell plans were available.  And what about VoIP options or Internet as a more cost-efficient means of communicating?  In an era where investment in technology can substantially reduce costs, will sophisticated clients remain willing to pay for costs like messenger service (where e-mail or e-fax is available), roaming charges and voluminous paper copies?

Opri also billed for less extravagant meals as well as laundry.  From my own perspective, I've often wondered about the propriety of charging every meal on travel.  After all, unless you work at a place that pays for all of your meals, you still pay to eat even when you're not on travel.  So why should clients pick up the cost of every food item simply because you're away on business?

  Back in mid-March, when Birkhead and Opri first parted ways, Opri explained that the relationship ended because Birkhead had developed a friendship with Howard Stern and was negotiating a settlement to the custody issues.  She explained:

"I just had enough. I can't represent a client who has a middle man by the name of Howard K. Stern. I feel very comfortable in my decision, and I wish Larry the best. But I am worried about him ... I couldn't continue with the way things were going."

After seeing the size of Opri's bill, however, I now wonder whether she was interested in protecting Birkhead's interest or her own cash cow.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 2, 2007 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)


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