Improper Use of ABA Task Codes Can Result in “Untrustworthy” and “Inconclusive” E-billing Data

A May 2009 article in the ACC Docket  entitled “Ebilling 2.0: A Novelty Becomes an Essential Management Tool” gave a fairly favorable slant toward the use of e-billing programs.  However, the authors noted with regard to the attorneys’ use of the ABA UTMBS task codes that “lawyers often cannot be relied upon to accurately enter codes for each time entry.” As a result, “clients found the data untrustworthy, difficult to analyze and/or inconclusive.”

I recently verified the accuracy of data mined through an e-billing program including relying on the accuracy of data based upon attorneys’ use of the ABA task codes by analyzing hundreds of legal bills submitted through an insurer’s e-billing program.  Although I was prepared to find some amount of discrepancy in attorneys’ use of ABA task codes, what I actually found surprised me. I found that the wrong ABA task code was incorrectly used in 22.4% of the entries!

There are many reasons why such a high number of errors could occur in attorneys’ (and paralegals’) use of the ABA task codes.  One big reason is that different firms take different approaches and leave it to individual attorneys to decide what time to put in to which task codes. This means that different attorneys working on the same case could have different approaches to using the ABA task codes.

Also, one can suspect that attorneys do genuinely make mistakes in picking out the right task codes to use and/or simply do not want to spend the time deciding the proper task code to use.   I also suspect that some lawyers purposefully use the wrong ABA task codes to make it appear they are within budget for different phases of the case.  If not, an e-billing program may red flag those entries for being over budget.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the results in the cost data as mined from e-billing programs based upon attorneys use of ABA task codes may be “untrustworthy.” While larger insurers have staffs that can deal with this, many smaller insurers that do not have litigation managers who can do a “deep dive” into the data may be relying upon “untrustworthy” data.  Thus it is that small insurers may be paying for ebilling reports that are based upon unreliable information.

More on how some e-billing data can also not be accurate in future posts.