Monthly Archives: November 2007

More bad time entries

This is a popular one, especially among legal assistants:

“Attention to file. 1.0 hr”

You’re kidding, right? Is anybody reading these bills before they’re sent? As we’ve asked before, if you were the timekeeper who made this entry, would you pay this bill? (“Work on case” is a variation on this theme.)

Also, nothing looks more like padded time than round numbers. We’re not saying anyone should change their actual time entries, but pages full of “1.0 hr, 2.0 hrs, 3.0 hrs” etc. just looks suspicious, and sends us a message about the timekeeper’s credibility and the billing attorney’s management skills.

Timekeepers, please describe what work you did (this is why the entries are called time descriptions). Billing attorneys, please review the bills before you send them.

What do you recommend?

Among other things, lawyers are recognized as the only humans with more than two hands. This is evolutionary, of course. Centuries of equivocating require appendages appropriate for proposing multiple alternatives without having to commit to one. “On the one hand, you could A, but then the plaintiff could do B in response, or possibly C, so instead of A you could do D; on the other hand, doing A and D together would box the plaintiff in. Still, you could try E followed by A, which is a little aggressive, but will send the right message. What do you think?” Too many hands. Too little analysis. No recommendation. This kind of advice just isn’t advice.

The failure (refusal sometimes) to make a recommendation is one of our greatest weaknesses as lawyers. Perhaps we’re trying to make sure clients don’t blindly jump to a conclusion without understanding the thorough analysis needed to arrive there, but I suspect there’s really more anatomy covering going on than anything else.

Garden-variety lawyers can always come up with another theory. But as business people, clients don’t deal with the theoretical; they have to make decisions. The best lawyers advance this process by making recommendations. Like the criticism we level at memoranda that merely explore the parties’ “best arguments” (i.e., the “on the one hand/other hand” treatment), preparing a legal analysis without a recommendation is unfinished work. Even if the best choice is so clear that anyone would recognize it, go the extra step, and tell us what you would do if you were in our shoes.

When you make a recommendation, you’re telling us that you approached the assignment as though it were your money, your liability or your reputation at stake — not just another research project.