I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

This week we learned that a client of DLA Piper had counter-sued the firm because it [allegedly] overbilled him. Much has been written about the emails from one DLA lawyer to another with the salacious quotes: “churn that bill, baby!” and “I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” and “Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” and “That bill shall know no limits.”

I am not writing about DLA’s lame attempt to suggest the matters covered in the emails were simply a bad attempt at humor: others have eloquently commented on the statement’s shortcomings.

The point I wish to make has been made many times by many people in many different situations. Perhaps the greatest expression of my point was made by Captain Louis Renault when he shut down Rick’s Cafe American in Casablanca,justifying his act by stating “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here” as Rick’s employee hands him his gambling winnings. It is a classic scene. His point resonates here. The falderal being raised by so many is the same kind of “shock” expressed by Captain Renault. Nobody except the most naive or those who chose to deliberately ignore the world around them can claim that this type of overbilling does not occur. As I have said many times, not everyone is guilty. But the institutional pressures to record more and more hours are so great that some cave to the pressure. And once they do and are rewarded for it, the die has been cast.

David Mowrey, Counsel in Xerox Corporation’s Office of General Counsel, wrote that “the churn” is “an open secret in the profession.” It’s time we move away from the quaint shock so frequently expressed when these episodes bubble into public display and address the problem. I am not so naive as to think this will happen, but I can always hope.