On Using and Billing for “Re-cycled Work Product”

“A lawyer who is able to reuse old work product has not re-earned the hours previously billed.”  ABA Formal Op. 93-379 (1993)

In reviewing legal bills and speaking at CLE seminars to attorneys, I have found that too many attorneys lack a sufficient understanding of what is ethically permitted when it comes to billing for services.  And one of the things most commonly misunderstood is how to ethically bill for “re-cycled work product.”

In a prior posts, I have noted that an awful lot of what any attorney does in any type of practice situation is especially suited to using forms or recycled work product.  Whether they disclose it to you or not, attorneys routinely use forms for appearances, initial and closing letters to clients, medical records requests, withdrawals, motions, orders, and even settlement documents.  Even more substantive documents such as briefs and appeals are often drafted in large part using recycled work product.

When it comes to billing for re-cycled work product, though, I often find attorneys engaging in what is called “value billing.”  That is, rather than billing for the actual time it took to modify the re-cycled document, they bill for what they believe to be the “value” of the re-cycled document.  The value is often determined as that time they think it would have taken had the document been drafted from scratch. Continue reading