Using “Rules of Thumb” and Common Sense in Reviewing for the Reasonableness of Time Billed

As I stated in my previous post, the three issues to consider in reviewing any billing entry are the reasonableness of the task, the reasonableness of the person performing the task, and the reasonableness of the time billed for performing the task. Of these three issues, the issue of the reasonableness of the time billed is the more difficult of the three.

Unlike coming up with a list of non-billable “tasks,” coming up with a “list” of how long it should take to do things is difficult to do. But while it may be difficult to do, it is not impossible to use some basic “rules of thumb”  in reviewing billing entries for the reasonable of the time billed – especially if you also use some basic common sense.

Below are a few of the rules of thumb I use.

How Long Should It Take to Review a Single Document?

I get this question every time I do a seminar for a company’s bill review staff. And my answer is always the same: how long it should take a lawyer (or paralegal) to review a document is roughly the same amount of time (if not less) than it does for you to read the same document.  What if often off-putting is the lawyer’s use of billing jargon “review” or “review and analyze” as if simply reading a document is really a two-step process.

Fortunately, many courts have seen through the lawyer hyperbole. Here is my favorite holding that cuts right through the artful, but often deceptive lawyer language in a legal bill:

“In most instances, ‘review’ appears to be merely a synonym for ‘read,’ a less impressive term. After all, anyone can read, but it takes a lawyer to review. . . An even more amorphous term is ‘analysis’. The Phoenix lawyers are great on analysis. There are no less than 15 time entries for analysis. Some are for ‘review and analysis’ . . When the Court attempts to envision a lawyer engaged in five hours of analysis, Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ comes to mind. Metro Data Systems, Inc. v. Durango Systems, Inc., 597 S. Supp. 244 (D. Ariz. 1984). Also see In re Wicat Securities Litigation, 671 F.Supp. 726 (D.Utah 1987), “[t]he word ‘review’ seems to be a catchall category with great versatility in counsels’ applications. It is also a signal for the padding of hours.”).

How Long Should It Take to Review a Large Set of Documents?

First of all, you should never accept a billing entry that bills for several hours for reviewing “documents produced in discovery” or something similar to this entry. Any documents that an attorney or paralegal reviews need to be identified. See Houghton v. Sipco, Inc., 828 F.Supp. 631 (S.D. Iowa 1993)(court finding as vague entries such as “attention to documents produced by defendants”).

But if it is a large amount of discovery documents amounting to several thousands of pages, there is a “rule of thumb” that can be employed. It should take no more than 8 hours to review about 2,500 pages of documents. See Cal. State Bar Arbitration Advisory, “Detecting Attorney Bill Padding,” (2008)(“As a rule of thumb, it takes about 8 hours to “review” a box of documents (2,500 pages)”). Thus, as a “rule of thumb” it should take about 2 hours for every 500 pages in a large document review.

How Long Should It Take to Prepare for a Deposition?

Another question I frequently get. Of course, it might make a difference if the lawyer was preparing to depose an expert witness in a patent dispute case rather than depose a fact witness in an slip and fall case. But a “rule of thumb”  I generally start with the assumption that it should take no more than 1 hour of preparation time per 1 hour of deposition time. If an attorney believes more time is warranted, the burden in on the attorney to support this.

Fortunately, I have case authority to support my rule of thumb. See Scott v. City and County of Denver, 2014 WL 287558 (D. Col. 2014)(court holding that a ratio of 4:1, preparation time to actual deposition time was excessive noting that “the rule of thumb for deposition preparation might suggest the allocation of as little as one hour of preparation time per hour of deposition time, and as much as three hours of preparation for each hour of deposition. See e.g. Caruso v. Zenon, 2006 WL 5106110 (D.Colo. May 11, 2006) (slip op.).

What About Time Billed for All Those LMTBC?

Yet another question I get. There is where common sense comes into play. Consider that the typical message left takes less than a minute to do (or consider that most telephone operating systems will not accept a message longer than 3 minutes). So, the answer for how much time to allow for a LMTCB is “0”. If you need case support, see Kronfeld v. Transworld Airlines, Inc., 129 F.R.D. 598 (S.D.N.Y. 1990)(Court disallowed time for recording LMTCB as “the actual time for such calls would have been de minimus.”).

Using “rules of thumb” can help you do your bill review work more efficiently. Of course, attorneys use rules of thumb to do their work more efficiently only they are not called rules of thumb. They are called “forms.”

 

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