Legal Fee Advisors
Forum Replies Created
January 12, 2017 at 6:23 pm in reply to: Can a lawyer charge set fee for similar tasks? #1377
It seems that you are referring to what is known as “set charges”. Set charges are standardized charges or a specified amount of time for a particular work product, regardless of the actual time expended. The issue with these types of charges are that they do not accurately reflect the actual time spent in completing the billable activity. Most companies do not accept such set charges or standard minimum charges for tasks. In fact, there are several companies that specify in their billing guidelines that the company will only pay for the actual, reasonable and necessary time spent for completing billable activities. Courts in some jurisdictions (i.e. Florida) have similarly agreed that, what is sometimes referred to as “unit billing”, disregards the actual time spent on the legal work and results in an unreasonable billing practice. Further, the American Bar Association has indicated that it is unethical to charge clients more time than the attorney actually spends on completing work. So in answer to your question, if find that you are being charged the same amount of time for a particular task, it is worth investigating further to determine whether your lawyer is engaging in the unethical billing practice or “set charges” or “unit billing”.January 12, 2017 at 6:20 pm in reply to: Is there a limit on how many attorneys can charge for work on the same document? #1375
Courts have termed what you are describing as “excessive staffing” or “multi-teaming”. These terms refer to instances where there are more staff than necessary assigned to efficiently complete the same task or where staff are shown to duplicate efforts (i.e. where multiple staff “review and revise” the same document repeatedly). Most commercial standards indicate that the company will not pay for more than one attorney to attend hearings, meetings, conference calls, depositions, etc. or for excessive review or revision of another timekeeper’s work. Further, most commercial standards also indicate that the company expects the partner in charge of the matter to staff the matter appropriately. This includes staffing assignments with the appropriate level of expertise (i.e. an attorney should not be staffed to an assignment that can be completed by a paralegal). Courts in most jurisdictions have taken the same approach, including the United States Supreme Court. When the United States Supreme Court encountered this issue, it opined that attorneys are ethically obligated to make a good faith effort to exclude hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. Given this reasoning and the commercial standards, instances where multiple attorneys or paralegals are found to be duplicating efforts or unnecessarily working on the same document, are likely to be objectionable charges.January 12, 2017 at 6:18 pm in reply to: What can I do when I don’t understand my legal bill? #1373
The time entries on a legal invoice should be sufficiently clear so that the reader can understand the substantive work that was completed and its value in moving the client’s matter forward. This means that an attorney has a duty to explain the activities they are charging for to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions about the representation. Both generally accepted commercial standards and legal standards re-iterate this principle. Commercial standards require that descriptions for tasks be sufficiently detailed so that the reviewer can determine if the time spent on the task was reasonable. Courts have taken a similar approach and frequently hold that if billing records are vague, a reduction in fees is appropriate. The courts reason that such vague entries prevent the court from assessing the reasonableness of the time expended in relation to the work performed. Consequently, it is both a generally accepted commercial standard and legal standard that legal invoices should contain time entries that are sufficiently clear where the reader can understand the work completed and the value of the work in relation to the matter.January 12, 2017 at 5:59 pm in reply to: Can a lawyer charge for travel time? #1369
Most jurisdictions and most companies only permit billing for travel time if substantive work is being completed simultaneously while travelling (i.e. an attorney is working on documents while on a train or airplane). Some courts, such as in California, are amenable in allowing reasonable fees for travel, however, this standard conflicts with most commercial standards and the legal standards in most other jurisdictions. The generally accepted commercial standards for billing for travel are that most companies will only reimburse reasonable pre-approved travel at half rate or half time and will not reimburse any local travel. The legal standards applied by courts in most jurisdictions are similar to these commercial standards – courts have reduced attorney fees for time billed that consists of purely travel time with no substantive work being performed. This means that if an attorney is charging for travel time at full rate and/or full time and is not performing substantive work, it is likely to be determined as an unreasonable charge.January 12, 2017 at 5:54 pm in reply to: Can a law firm charge for work completed by non-attorneys? #1367
A law firm should only charge for time billed by professional-level staff. Professional-level staff are staff that have legal knowledge. This includes attorneys and paralegals. If a task does not require legal knowledge and can easily be completed by a non-legal professional, (such as submitting filings, serving documents, mailing documents, scheduling depositions, opening or closing matters, proofreading, copying, scanning, printing, preparing document logs that do not require judgment or substantive knowledge, preparing form transmittal letters, downloading, uploading, etc.), the law firm should not charge for the task. Such costs should be absorbed as part of the firm’s overhead.
Most companies refuse to pay for these types of tasks and consider them to be “clerical” tasks. Some companies even include tasks completed by summer associates in this category and refuse to pay for such time. Additionally, courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have reduced fees or refused to award fees for clerical tasks reasoning that these tasks do not require legal expertise to be carried out and are administrative tasks. Consequently, it is against legal standards and generally accepted commercial standards for an attorney to charge for clerical tasks or tasks completed by non-professional level staff.January 12, 2017 at 5:34 pm in reply to: Can a law firm charge me for Westlaw fees? #1364
Charging clients for computerized research databases, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis is against both legal standards and generally accepted commercial standards. Courts typically view such expenses as overhead expenses that should be absorbed by the law firm and not pushed to the client. Further, most companies specify in their billing guidelines that they will not reimburse Westlaw or LexisNexis charges or other computerized research. Time spent researching is chargeable, but usually not the expense of the legal research platforms (unless there has been an agreed upon arrangement between the law firm and the client stating otherwise).