Over-staffing the handling of a matter for a client who knows no better and pays their bills is a significant example of an excessive law firm billing practice that we have seen over the years. This is most often encountered when a client is paying on an hourly basis. Frequently seen examples include:
- having and charging numerous in-firm “conferences”, many of which involve “conferring” about routine tasks or plans,
- sending (and charging for) more personnel than necessary to routine events, and/or
- charges for proofreading and editing routine work done by other firm members.
Insurance and litigation management firms have recognized these potential abuses and have adopted extensive guidelines and methods of reviewing bills submitted by private law firms, but they will be the first to concede that their systems are far from foolproof. Furthermore, very few other types of legal service consumers seem equipped to deal with these and other types of over-staffing.
This is not to suggest that having “backup” personnel assigned to cases or on projects is always inappropriate – in many instances it is actually advisable and necessary. Yet legal service consumers should be alert to the possibility of over-staffing and are encouraged to avoid issues of this type by negotiating written retention agreements to address issues of this type. They may also seek “second opinions” or get competitive proposals by other area law firms or practitioners. And they may change lawyers as noted in one of our prior blog entries.
We recently attended a simple “site visit” with a client and our expert witness. The lone corporate defendant was “represented” by several lawyers from the same firm. Our client (never shy with words) eventually asked the senior Attorney for the defendant whether he had experienced trouble “finding even more lawyers who could come just to watch and send bills” around the firm’s water cooler that morning. It was embarrassing, but would probably hurt even more to have to pay the bill if the firm bills for over-staffing of that type.
Lawyers and their clients should be cooperative and fair to one another. If they do so abuses of this type will not occur. As always, please contact John Reilly & Associates if you are having issues of this type, want to review a proposed retention agreement or have other law-related questions. Visit us on the web or call us.