Ethics in Legal Billing


    Some attorneys, particularly the ones who have no paralegals and / or secretaries, tend to bill every task at their own attorney billable rates. For example, "Going to court for filing the motion 1 hr @ 300 / hr." The ratione being that the attorney does not employ anyone else and the attorney actually went to the court to file the motion. This may not be the best example but such practices are prevalent. There are ethical issues with this type of billing practices. These delegable tasks requires no particular legal skills and can be performed by just about anyone.

    Solo attorneys that do not employ support staff should include billable rates of secretaries, support staff and paralegals in their fee agreements anyway and bill their clients based on the characteristics / nature of individual tasks rather than those performed these tasks. Attorney billable rates should be applied only when the task in question requires legal skills of the attorney.

    Many attorneys are still not using helpful tools to manage their time tracking and billing. Reliance of paper notes and spreadsheets may lead to duplicate billing (or missed billable hours). It is prudent to organize time and billing using one of the several online tools. A legal time and billing software may make your practice more efficient and reduce opportunities of billing errors and disputes with clients over bills.

    There are many choices these days in terms of both internally hosted and online software systems. In this day and age, it is becoming less and less prudent to have an in-house installation of software to manage your legal practice and billing needs. In-house installations require constant maintenance, backup, software / hardware upgrade, software licenses, and routine monitoring of systems. While big law firm may have IT resources to handle these tasks, solos and small firms would waste valuable time and resources on these IT tasks.

    Cloud based legal time and billing systems are becoming more and more popular among these days because these systems take away all the issues of running in-house IT installations. These systems is mostly subscription based and typically cost much less than in-house software installations. Monthly subscription may range from around $ 10 / month to hundreds of dollars per months based on number of users and / or cases or clients. There are a few online time and billing software that do not charge based on the number of users (law firm staff members).

    When selecting a right solution for your practice, select the one that provides, at the minimum time and expense recording and easy invoice generation from the entered time / expenditure data. Many billing systems do not have time tracking features. A good time and billing software should let you track your time, provide various options to automate calculating the billable cost based on your negotiated fees with each of your client. The time and billing software should also allow your staff members to use their own login to enter their own time and expenses. A role based user management would be a desired feature for a right time and billing software, even if you do not have any staff members right now. Consider if you hire a contract attorney for a case. A role based user management would allow you to create a separate "limited access" login for your contract attorney so you do not end up entering his / her time in the system yourself.

    Check to see if the time and billing software allows trust accounting and case notes / document management. Not all solutions include all these features. it would be prudent to select a solution that include more features so that you do not end up using multiple software solutions to run your practice.

    Source by Rajeev Madnawat