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All-Time Worst Lawyer Billing Practices

How Much? As you all know, I’m not much of a fan of hourly billing.  Sometimes, we do it in litigation as part of a blended arrangement where we share risk with the client.  This can either be a flat fee cap or a contingency fee component to hourly work.  But a story I heard from a client the other day got me thinking.   What are the worst billing practices used by lawyers?  Here’s my list:
  • Calling a client who doesn’t have a live project to find out how they or their company are doing and then sending a bill to the client for the time spent on the phone.
  • Offering to pay for a lunch with the client and then sticking that as a “cost” item on the bill.
  • Billing time that doesn’t add any value to the matter.
  • Billing for cover letters which contain no substance or analysis.
  • Billing the client time when they question the bill.
Come on.  You can do it.  Give me some additions to the list.  I know you have them!



Billing for organizing the mess of notes, drafts, and research strewn across the lawyers desk and calling it 0.7 of 'File management' or 'Planning and strategy development.'

Dan Schwartz

A followup post to this should be, what are the things that clients should expect to pay for -- like research and analysis. Heard stories that clients won't pay for "research" because it should be something that the attorney should "know". A good client relationship exists when both parties believe the other side will act in good faith to bill properly on the file.



I agree that it's all about expectations. The issue of research is one that sometimes comes up. My view is that clients should absolutely want you to find the latest and greatest cases that are directly on point. Rarely does an attorney have those cases off the top of their head, even when they specialize in a particular area of law. Legal cases aren't solved on one narrow legal issue. There are dozens or hundreds of narrow legal issues which need to be tackled.

The question then becomes how much legal research should a client pay for. If the lawyer has held themselves out as having a degree of expertise, the client should to pay for detailed research and not general research.


Where to start? Billing for opening mail and directing it to the file; billing for leaving voice mails; rewording billing entries to make them sound more important and substantive than they really are, i.e., developing case strategies, etc.; billing clients for a lawyer to get up to speed on an unknown area of the law; billing the client for meaningless e-mails and phone calls; and in general, just nickle-and-diming clients for everything in a billable-hour model that is in essence, a blank check.

Corinne A. Tampas

Until recently, my law practice was focused solely on writing and research for other attorneys.

Several years ago, my family's construction business became embroiled in a legal matter and I decided that it was best to hire outside counsel. The agreement with outside counsel was that I would write most of the motions but I would defer to outside counsel as she was ultimately the attorney of record.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I received outside counsel's billing and was billed for the legal research and writing of motions that I had written. When I questioned the billing ..... something like, "I've worked for free before, but I've never paid anyone to work" ...... outside counsel informed me that I did not have to pay her for the motions. Her explanation was that the billing was something I could present later to the court for attorney's fees!!!!!

So, the bottom line was since outside counsel got caught billing for work she did not do, she would help me commit a fraud upon the court should my family's construction business prevail in the underlying suit and receive attorney's fees.

The kicker? We we suing one of the defendants for fraud!

Family Law Lawyer Los Angeles

I'd have to agree Dan. Client's should be made aware of what they are being billed for, and that includes research. It's a painstaking and belittled task by most people that needs to be billed properly.

Joni Mueller

I see this all the time: A partner and two associates in on a conference call with the client or opposing counsel. All three bill for their time at whatever the agreed on rate is. I think that's a bit cheeky; it ought to be averaged out IMHO.

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