Cutting The Ties That Bind . . . Sometimes Breaking Up Can Be Really Hard to Do.

It sometimes happens.  You and your lawyer are not getting along and have not been for some time.  And you have decided that you can no longer putt off the inevitable.   You have decided that now is the time to end the relationship.

Perhaps the real cause of the break-up is as it is with most breakups – money (i.e., your lawyer’s extravagances) or lack of attention (i.e., to your files). Or perhaps you have been attracted to a new law firm. Whatever the reason, you decide that rather than continuing with the present relationship, it is time to break off that relationship and move on. You only want what is rightfully yours (the files) and you are willing to pay what you rightfully owe. Simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, as with a personal relations break-up, break-ups between lawyers and their clients often are not always simple.  In my role counseling attorneys on my state’s legal ethics hotline, I get a number of questions each year from attorneys on issues that can arise as a result of break-ups between attorneys and their clients.

In addition to generating bad feelings, disputes often arise over what additional fees are due the former lawyer after notice to transfer the file(s) and who pays the costs for transferring the files. Disputes can even arise over what constitute the “file.”

Fortunately, case law and the ethics of the legal profession do offer clear guidance on some of the basics involved in transferring files from one lawyer to another. But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Continue reading

Happy New Year and Beware of Surprises in 4th Quarter Bills

As your review January bills from outside counsel which include time billed during the 4th quarter of 2013, you may note two things.  One is a flurry of billed for activity as attorneys and paralegals scramble to get in all the billable hours they can so they can to meet firm goals for yearly minimum billing requirements or to determine firm bonuses.

The other thing you may note is the presence of some billers who have not previously billed in the file who are also scrambling to get in as many billable hours as they can before year’s end.  They have literally gone around the office begging others for work to do in order to meet the firm’s minimum billing requirements or to qualify for a bonus.

In the parlance of bill reviewing, these drop-in billers are called “transient billers.” They are attorneys and paralegals who mysteriously drop into a case, do a little work, and then mysteriously drop out of the case.  While mainly found in year end bills, transient billers can also found throughout the year as partners are pressured by firm management to keep idle staff busy. Continue reading