By Clark Savage, Jr.
Ever been overcharged by a lawyer?
Join the club.
“There is potentially a 10% to 30% chance of legal bills for overcharging or over-inflation of hours disguised as blocks analyzing this or focusing on that,” Ryan Loro, president of Philadelphia-based SIB Legal Bill Review, a service that monitors legal charges, recently told the New York Post.
One thing to watch out for is so-called “block billing,” by which an attorney can use a single charge to several separate tasks. The American Bar Association advises lawyers not to do it, nothing, “Avoid Block Billing. If you handle three different tasks on a matter in a single day, you should record three separate billing entries. An entry such as: “Attend status conference, prepare motion to dismiss, and confer with client regarding document production: 8.0 hours” makes it impossible to know how much time you spent on each task. The exception to this rule is email and telephone communications, which should often be grouped together to avoid having multiple entries for “email client regarding document production,” “review client response to email regarding document production,” “prepare response to client email regarding document production,” etc. “Email correspondence with client regarding document production” is a much better approach.”
“By packaging all the work into one bill over a monthly billing period and not documenting each day’s work, some lawyers inflate bills,” SIB Legal Review VP Joe DiGuglielmo told the Post. “Block billing, he adds, can still be used, but clients should insist firms “document what they were doing each day of a billing period.” DiGuglielmo warned that without daily documentation, some lawyers couldn’t prove “they did anything.”
As hgexperts.com makes clear on its web site, “Approximately 90 percent of law firm clients who are billed on an hourly basis are “block billed.” Block billing is an accounting technique whereby lawyers aggregate multiple smaller tasks into a single “block” entry, for which a single time value is assigned. In theory, the total time charged equals the sum of the duration of each discrete task. For example, after spending five minutes on a phone call, 35 minutes revising a junior associate’s draft motion and three minutes dashing off a brief e-mail to the client, the attorney should bill the client for seven-tenths of an hour.”
A better strategy for attorney and client alike is for lawyers to be descriptive in their billing. As Michael S. LeBoff, senior counsel with Klein & Wilson in Newport Beach, California, notes in an article on the ABA’s web site, “Time sheets are your opportunity to show the client and billing partners what they are paying for, so your time sheets should explain the value you are adding. A generic description like “research procedural issues” is likely to draw pushback from the client, if they are paying attention. On the other hand, “analyze and develop strategies for contesting service of summons” provides the client with enough information that he or she does not need to ask the billing partner what happened.”
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