I am always surprised by the fact that law firms see basic client communications as a billable event. A smart client will always ask their law firm whether or not they will get billed if they send their lawyer an email or a transmittal letter. Clients should know up front whether a five minute phone call is going to result in a sixty dollar charge.
Law firms that view basic client communications as a billable event are, in my opinion, law firms that could care less about customer service. Billing for basic client communications is indicative of a law firm mentality focused on billing every possible moment of every day to one or more clients.
We like to say that we are a value-based billing law firm. We only bill for those items which provide value to the clients. If we are not marking up a document or producing work product which can be visibly seen by the client--not just any work product, but high level analysis--that we don't bill it. If a phone call is that significant, it will always result in work after you hang up the phone. If an email contains strategic or other important information in a case, then it will require the attorney to get out of their chair and do something with it. The activity that comes from basic client communications is appropriate for billing.
An interesting thing has happened to our law firm as a result of the fact that we do not bill for basic phone calls, transmittal or emails by and between the firm and our clients. Our clients are unobstructed to provide us key information or involve us in their court business problems. By facilitating as opposed to discouraging communications, we end up with more matters to handle on behalf of our clients. As importantly, our clients feel good about calling us on the phone or receiving basic information. Their guts don't tighten up with fear that they are getting billed time by calling their attorney on the phone.
We constantly remind our clients that communications are not billable time. We encourage them to contact us by phone or email. I would never go back to the old model of billing for basic client communications. It is my opinion that it is the most destructive aspect of the traditional hourly billing model. It creates psychological barriers for both the attorney and the client. Our approach not only generates more business, better client relations but also makes our conversations and communications with our clients "feel good."