An Attorney’s Duty to Use Less Costly Personnel

“The tasks performed by a partner that should have been performed by either an associate or paralegal will be charged at the proper associate and/or paralegal rate. In addition, any tasks performed by an associate that could have been performed by a paralegal will be charged at the hourly rate.”

Klimbach v. Spherion Corp., 467 F.Supp.2d 323 (W.D.N.Y. 2006)

One thing that I always recommend insurers and other companies add to their litigation and billing guidelines is a requirement that tasks always be assigned to less costly staff wherever possible. This is not only a common sense requirement, but it also mirrors an attorney’s ethical duties as well as well settled case law.

I always find it somewhat ironic that companies to have to put things in billing guidelines that attorneys ought to otherwise know and be doing on their own without being told to do so. But my experience as a former chair of a state bar ethics committee and bill reviewer has taught me that there are some attorneys who either lack a knowledge of certain ethical requirements or conveniently decide to forget those ethical requirements – especially when it is to their economical advantage to do so.

So it is that when reviewing legal bills, I always look to see if tasks are being appropriately assigned to less costly personnel. I especially review for this when I review legal bills from independent counsel and from larger law firms.  This is because I have found them to be notoriously bad about appropriately staffing a case (see previous blog post) and about assigning tasks to less costly personnel.

To mask what it is they are really doing, I have found that attorneys and paralegals often . . .

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