Charging a client for telling him what he owes you
What is “appropriate” billing?
(Not so) hypothetical: A first year associate recorded on his time sheet the following: "Waited in hall to talk to Sally Partner about research assignment - 0.50 Hours." The billing item actually was placed on the client's bill without challenge, until the client, a very large client of the firm, questioned it.
Is this billing inappropriate? After all, the associate was there on the client’s matter. The associate is not a machine; even machines need a rest from time to time without a discount of the product’s pricing.
Or, is this merely a matter of poor judgment in how the time was described? Should the time have been folded into research or other activity that would not have raised anyone’s eyebrows?
Is this the subject of myth or fodder for a training program for new (sometimes not so new) lawyers in your firm?
In another case, a client was billed for "client email re: retainer" and for "responding to client email re: retainer, researching retainer balance..." Is it proper to bill a client for giving him his balance? If yes, should it be described as such or should it be described as "xxx hours to review status of matter?" If the latter, is this not fabrication? And is it ethical to fabricate the true nature of the work for which the billing is rendered?
All of the foregoing creates one more argument against the billable hour and for “value” or “alternative” billing arrangements. Does the client really care about how much time we spend on the matter? I think not.
Our ethical dilemma: Does billing by the hour actually put us in conflict with our client? The more time we take, the more we earn at the expense of the client. To say that we (lawyers) are all honest and the clients need to trust that we will be as efficient as humanly possible is a stretch ... first, most lawyers are not efficient, or at at least not so efficient as they might be; second, this argument sounds like the parent who says in response to why the child should do what the parent says: "... Just because I said so."
I think the client is retaining us in order to solve a challenge he/she faces ... It’s irrelevant how long it takes ... In fact, the client is likely to pay us more if we can get a solution for the client faster!
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