Monday, July 30, 2007

Random Musings about Billing

In this morning's reading: Trusted Advisor points out this article from the Wall Street Journal law blog:
Study Suggests Significant Billing Abuse:William G. Ross, a professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law…polled 5,000 attorneys from various walks of life throughout the country, and 251 responded…

Two-thirds said they had “specific knowledge” of bill padding ─ a finding virtually identical to one reached by Ross in a 1995 billing survey. Also, 54.6% of the respondents (as compared with 40.3% in 1995) admitted that they had sometimes performed unnecessary tasks just to bump up their billable output.
Ross says that bill padding involves invoicing a client for work never performed — or exaggerating the amount of time spent on a matter—- while unnecessary work is that which “exceeds any marginal utility” to a client.
Oh the one hand, I saw this often in the business world. My favorite: charging .2 (18 minutes) minimum for everything - including reading a letter of two lines, which probably took all of ten seconds real time. I guess they're in remedial classes.

Myself, I find the opposite problem. Case in point: last week I was trying to fashion a comprehensive letter to a client who basically has one last chance to get her kid back or they're going to file a termination. A how-to-parent guide intended to spark her into doing what I know she's quite capable of, if she'd only, to quote Nike, just do it. So I write one draft. I read it over - it's too long, and too preachy. It will likely inspire her to tell me to go to hell more than anything else. So I revise it, taking out the preachiness and ramping up the cheerleading factor, and read it again. More positive, but still too convoluted. And have I taken out too much of the bite - will she not get the fact that if she fails, she may loose all rights to her child forever? Again with the rewrite. By this time, three hours has gone by. Three hours to write a letter? The state public defender's office, the office which pays out when you take court-appointed juvenile cases, won't even bother laughing as the slash the time down to half an hour or so.

Finally, I get a draft that's somewhat close. It's still wrong, but I can't take any more time on it, I've got about twenty other things I need to get done before I can call it a day. So, now the big question: what time to bill? I decide to put an hour, and denote in the explanation that it was an extremely comprehensive letter outlining the case to date and plan of action. We'll see if I get paid.

Come to think of it, could some of the bill-padding cited be an attempt to make up for this kind of thing? Though I haven't thought of it that way, I guess I could see where an attorney might feel justified in trying to recoup their time by adding a few .1's onto other tasks.

Nah, I'm probably being too sympathetic.

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