We came across this excellent post by Patrick J. Lamb at In Search of Perfect Client Service awhile ago, and recently passed it on to colleagues whose outside counsel are doing the “alternative fee shuffle”. We’re all kidding ourselves when we define “alternative fees” as “anything that’s not straight hourly rates.” As Patrick says: Continue reading
For the longest time only quantum physicists observing special relativity, and judges (see, e.g., Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §473) could enlarge time. Not to be left out of the fun, lawyers invented the “minimum billing increment”, i.e. the smallest unit of billable time to be charged for a work task. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Please don’t nag us to pay your December 10th invoices by year end. Continue reading
Nothing new here: things are slowing down (except bankruptcy and litigation, naturally.) If you’re not asking for discounts, you’re not doing your job. Continue reading
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.
Who writes this time entry on a legal bill and expects it to be paid?
Research. 4.1 hrs.
Well, someone does. In fact, this time entry was on a whole page of similar ones like “Read letter. 0.3.” and “Answer email. 0.2”.
It’s remarkable that lawyers who don’t hesitate to labor over their briefs to capture every second of the reader’s attention fail to spend a fraction of that time composing what needs to be their most persuasive monthly work: the fee statement. Neither I (nor the business center manager whose budget is carrying this cost) should ever have to wonder what we received for the time billed.
A well-written legal bill should fully describe the work performed, with a view toward the relevance of the task to the engagement. Doesn’t “research applicability of 3-year statute of limitations to plaintiff’s recent claim for repetitive stress injury and summarize findings in short memorandum. 4.1 hrs.” sound like real work was done, instead of “Research. 4.1 hrs.”?
Each time entry should be self-justifying, and should never prompt an inquiry. In other words, a well-written legal bill is so clear and so transparent as to compel its recipient to pay it without question; its value is immediately apparent.