I attended the Indiana State Bar Solo & Small Firm Conference, held on June 5-7 at the French Lick Springs Resort in French Lick, Indiana, (aka, the hometown of Larry Bird or as we call him in Indiana, “Larry Legend”). The conference is the second largest of its kind in the U.S. and regularly draws attendees and speakers from throughout the U.S.
At this year’s SSF Conference, Ted Waggoner, author of the popular blog, Lawyers with Troubles, and I made a joint presentation on “The Ethics of Using Legal Assistants.” As you may know from past blog pieces on using legal assistants, I am a big fan of attorneys utilizing legal assistants (e.g., paralegals) to the maximum extent possible. In fact, as I have written before, I really do believe that increased use of legal assistants is the key to increased profitability in law firms.
One of the national speakers at the SSF Conference was Ben Schorr. Ben is an international IT consultant and author of the book “The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Word 2007” published by the ABA. Ben spoke to the legal assistants attending the conference about, what else, getting the maximum benefit out of using Microsoft Word. A part of his presentation was on how to prevent your Word documents from being metadata mined. As you know, metadata mining has been at the forefront of the news lately over revelations that the NSA has been metadata mining our phone records.
Ben gave an illustration of the pitfalls to lawyers when their documents are metadata mined. He told of a client who was concerned over high legal bills from a firm. In particular, they were concerned about the 5 hours a partner billed to prepare a document. Data mining done showed that the partner actually spent 20 only minutes in total editing the document while an associates spent 1 hour working on the document. Not only that, but through metadata mining they traced the document back to another firm that the associate used to work for.
So how much do you want to bet that this is what actually happened. The partner likely tasked the associate to prepare the document and unknown to the partner, the associate decides to just recycle a document he took from another firm. (Would love to see the timesheet from the associate to see if he put down he spent 4 hours on the document.) So the partner then decides after seeing the associate put down 4 hours in drafting the document to put down his 20 minutes, rounds all the time up, to bill the client the whole 5 hours at his partner rate as if he the partner had drafted the document from stratch. And, to make matters worse, the client was able to metadata mine a comment the partner had made on a draft to the associate to not worry about changing something in the document because “[name of client] wouldn’t understand it anyway.” Ouch and double ouch!
I have often used metadata mining to show a client that a document a lawyer absolutely swears took him over an hour to prepare only took a few minutes because it was a form. There are plenty of resources on the Internet on how to metadata mine documents. Just for kicks, you might want to try it sometime. You just never know what you might find out just how much time the lawyer actually spent to prepare the document (and if it is a form) and what he might be saying about you as well.