ABA Journal

The New Normal

Do you deduct time from your billing sheet for bathroom breaks? And other billable-hour mysteries

By Patrick J. Lamb

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Some random questions about the billable hour:

1) When people record their time days or weeks after the work was done, do you ever wonder about the accuracy of the entries? They should be accurate. They are made to appear accurate—measured in tenths of an hour. But do people remember to deduct for bathroom breaks? For calls from friends? Checking Facebook? Another lawyer sticking their head in to talk about the big game?

2) Some people work quickly and some work slowly. I am reminded of the grits scene in My Cousin Vinny where Joe Pesci’s Vinny asks: “So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes?” Do clients get to choose the fast worker to get lower bills?

3) Do you ever have days when your mind is somewhere else? Do you adjust your hourly rate for those days?

4) Do you ever have moments of true inspiration in which you come up with an idea that will save your client a substantial amount? Do you feel slighted that you only got to bill .2 for that moment of inspiration?

5) As a billing partner, when you get the pre-bills for your matters, aren’t you secretly excited when the fee amount is higher than you were expecting?

6) How many times has a client told you she was surprised by the amount of an invoice?

7) Have you ever been upset that the lawyer on the other side is going to be paid as much (or more) than you, even though you just won?

8) Do you ever justify (to yourself) upward rounding on your time sheets because your client is a big corporation that would never notice?

9) Do you ever ask an associate to check the law in yet another state even though that other state’s laws don’t apply?

10) As a client, have you ever wondered how much it cost you to chat with your lawyer when most of the call was spent talking about your last golf outing? Do you wonder if your outside lawyer gave it a second thought before billing for the entire call?

11) Why does the passage into a new year justify a rate increase? Is it like passing “go” in Monopoly and collecting $200?

12) Did you ever feel like you were actually worth more when your hourly rate was raised?

13) Have you ever increased the expected hours on a budget just so you had wiggle room?

14) Have you ever decreased the expected hours on a budget because the issue didn’t justify so many hours?

15) How much time, money and energy is devoted to reviewing the invoices of “trusted counsel” to make sure you (the client) can actually trust them?

Just asking. But it sure seems like there ought to be a way to do things where these questions wouldn’t arise.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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