The practice of keeping time is for timekeepers to produce detailed logs of their performed tasks. At best, some timekeepers will keep meticulous time entries recorded instantly in billing software. Some will keep handwritten notes on an extra legal pad. At worst, a few will use forensic reconstruction techniques based on the documents in the file to reconstruct what work they completed in the past.
Improved Accuracy of Regular Billing
As you can imagine, the more time that lapses between when work is performed and when their bills are prepared will impact the accuracy of the time and tasks contained therein. Unfortunately, many attorneys will often wait until the end of the week, month, quarter, or sometimes the following year to compile their time entries and submit invoice for services rendered.
Legal operations departments should strive to have outside counsel submit bills frequently, consistently and timely to ensure accurate insight into the cost of legal spend. Additionally, legal ops departments can avoid the unpleasant surprise of sizable and unbudgeted expenses that should have been received, accounted for, and paid two quarters prior.
Time-Task Appropriate Billing
Another challenge in auditing legal spend is reviewing the amount of time that is being charged for common tasks. Although law is constantly evolving and creating new and interesting challenges for attorneys, there are many aspects of litigation and other practice areas where certain documents and tasks are generally standardized.
The problem occurs when a timekeeper bills for the amount of time a task may take instead of the time a task actually takes. There are also some billers that will bill for a minimal time that they arbitrarily assign regardless of the amount of time that tasks require. For example, tasks that should be billed at .1 hours (or 6 minutes) will be billed for at least .3 hours despite the task being completed in much less time.
There are several tasks that are commonly billed this way. The easiest to identify is the amount of time billed for drafting. For example, a paralegal requesting medical records is not drafting a completely unique letter for every medical record request for a matter. If they are being efficient, most of the document will remain the same for each medical provider they are completing requests for.
Some other documents that should only take nominal time to complete are transmittal letters, form discovery documents, medical record and medical bill requests, certificate of service, affidavits and subpoenas for medical records, Notices of Hearing, Notices of Appearance, Notices of Filing and other similar simple pleadings.
Another area where law firms sometimes charge an inflated minimal hourly rate for are time entries in completing administrative forms. For example, many workers compensation law firms in California will bill 18 minutes to complete the impressive-sounding 4906(g), a one page document that only requires a date and signature.
Most administrative forms are available online through their respective state websites and can be reviewed by anyone willing to complete a quick web search for the title of the form and the name of the state it is used in.
In either instance, consider if the task is novel or if there are exigent circumstances that would cause a timekeeper to need to spend more time than normal to complete the task. Timekeepers should also be encouraged to identify the reason why more time was spent on a document than normal. If you are in a position to review the documents drafted, consider how similar they are when considering the appropriateness of the amount of time being billed.
The first consideration if you intend to begin curtailing irregular or inefficient time entries is to make sure your billing guidelines instruct counsel to bill on-time and only on the amount of time required to complete the task described. This will set the expectation that you will only pay for services actually rendered when they are rendered.