Five Questionable Legal Billing Practices That Are Increasing During the Pandemic

The worldwide pandemic has changed many things about the way people and companies operate on a day-to-day basis. Working from home poses challenges across the board, including an increase in certain overcharges that can show up on a client’s legal bill.

Lets look in detail the reasons in-house legal teams should be on the lookout for specific overcharges on their outside counsel invoices, especially during a year when companies must find ways to limit cash burn and make up for losses.

Here are five suspect billing practices that have been on the rise with attorneys working from home:

Failure to Delegate

Working from home brings a variety of challenges for senior attorneys: for one, they don’t have their usual support staff right there with them. Additionally, they may still be getting used to their remote working technology. The result is that work they would have delegated to junior attorneys or even paralegals under normal circumstances is harder to assign out, so they often just take care of it themselves. It’s a problem because they work at a much higher rate than their underlings, meaning it can really inflate a bill if high-dollar lawyers are spending hours doing the legal equivalent of “grunt work.”

Duplicative Work

When attorneys are working out of home offices, with less opportunity to communicate and coordinate naturally, more situations can arise where two attorneys are working on the same task at the same time. If they both bill for it, it’s a no-no – the client doesn’t get any benefit from the same thing getting done twice.

Excessive Time

Often the most common complaint of clients, this has become even more likely during quarantine. With all the distractions around the house, is it plausible that a work-from-home attorney spent seven hours straight working on a client’s matter, without a break to check on the kids or fold some laundry? The reality is that the way we work has changed, and firms should bill realistically.

“Caretaking” Charges

While the pandemic has increased the need for lots of legal work (such as employee health/safety, legal liability, and regulatory compliance advice), it has at times also ground the legal process to a halt. In-person trials, hearings, and other litigation procedures, for example, may be suspended indefinitely when local infection numbers flare up. When firms continue to bill for minor charges related to matters that are on hold, such as charging to “monitor,” “review,” or “correspond” about a matter without any real tangible activity happening (such as a hearing or deposition), it raises the question of whether the “work” being done was really necessary, or whether these charges were a way for the firm to bill a few extra hours during an otherwise slow month.

“Phantom” Expenses

Despite the shift away from the office, lots of firms are still advancing costs to their clients for expenses that may no longer be justified. If an attorney charges for travel expenses, was the trip really warranted in these circumstances? After all, many courts are accommodating virtual communications in lieu of in-person appearances. Likewise, if a firm charges for room hosting, such as for a mediation, can you be sure the mediation was actually held in person, or did the conference room just serve as a glorified Zoom background? It’s worth asking before agreeing to pay for these costs.

These are just some of the ways firms are overcharging their clients now that many of their attorneys are working from home. It is more important than ever to not only identify these excessive charges, but to have experts who know how to discuss them with a law firm and get them reduced or removed.

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