Your R&D is not my capital investment … it’s yours.

So last weekend, on a quiet nondescript morning, coffee freshly poured I thought, “No finer time than right now to review some law firm invoices.”  Ok, I didn’t really think that, but since this past week was going to be highly unproductive (it didn’t disappoint) it was time to get the mundane out of the way.

I pulled the first one off the stack.  The General Matters invoice.  There was only one entry:

“Review recent court decisions concerning intellectual property rights.  0.6 hrs.”

The expense statement was even better.

“LEXIS/NEXIS case searches for recent court decisions concerning intellectual property rights . . . . . $467.00”

Now all this would be perfectly acceptable if we had actually engaged the firm to do some research.  But we hadn’t.  Hmmm… this was probably just another time entry foul-up (expense charge too — same day, probably automated).  No big deal.  We’ll just call and have it fixed.

Our administrative assistant (a/k/a our “Vendor Satisfaction Specialist”) called the billing attorney and inquired.  “Oh, I see. Well, thank you very much, I’ll let him know,” she replied.  “You were right.  It was a mistake. We shouldn’t have been billed for the full Lexis search — it should have been allocated among other clients.  He’s going to fix it and send a new bill.”

“What? No.  We didn’t ask for the research,” I explained.

“Oh, well, he said that he knows that we expect him to keep up to date on the latest developments.  So every now and then he searches for the latest cases and allocates his time and  expense evenly among all his clients.  He kind of laughed and said he wanted to make sure we knew we were getting our money’s worth.”

Right.

My phone conversation with counsel went a little differently. After listening to his surprise that I had a problem with the bill (no other client had ever found a problem with his keeping current.  After all, it was for our benefit.)  Gotta love the litigators and their convictions.

“You know, I sleep incredibly well knowing you’re up to speed on the latest developments, scrutinizing every scintilla of minutiae, no nuance being too small, a veritable venus fly trap for presumptuous opponents.  You’re great.  You’re a genius.  And well worth the $750/hr you charge — every penny of it.  You see, the thing is, I just don’t want to pay for it twice.  If you didn’t keep up on the latest developments, I have no doubt you’d be off your game, and worth, say, a paltry $350/hr.  But keeping current to justify your lofty (but well-deserved!) hourly rate is your obligation, not mine.  All of your time — well spent — staying sharp is a part of the $750.  It’s what makes you the great lawyer you are. ” (Ok, I went too far there at the end, but I was on a roll.)

There was a long silence.  Finally he spoke. “I guess we just disagree.  But since it’s important to you, how about if I just write it off. ”

I know he was dying to add “… just this once.”

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2 thoughts on “Your R&D is not my capital investment … it’s yours.

  1. Mike Dolan

    Kudos for calling counsel out for this. This is akin to charging clients for your continuing education courses. Its overhead. Period. Not sure how the legal profession got off the track but the current market is forcing the profession to shed itself of such activities. The sad thing is that you obviously valued the attorney (see comments as to his fees) so you must have felt somewhat betrayed by the billing.
    The client/attorney should be a matter of trust. Both sides should feel they are being treated fairly. I have worked long and hard to get certain clients only to be treated, on occasion,as the enemy.
    I have employed the direct approach you used to right the ship.

  2. Shaun

    This is great, I found your blog through Twitter and I’ve been going through it. Kudos from a law student concerned with keeping the profession clean

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