E-Filing is So Easy That Even a Lawyer Can Do It.

January 11, 2017

Electronic filing (e-filing) of documents with state courts  is sweeping the country. If it is not yet in your state, chances are that it will be soon. Here is a list of the status of e-filing in state courts in the states.

Preceding the implementation of e-filing programs, seminars and written material have been provided to lawyers and their staffs on how to use the e-filing system in their jurisdictions. Having attended some of those seminars, I can attest to the fact that e-filing is so easy that even lawyers can do it.

And judging from the time entries in legal bills that I review, many lawyers have begun to e-file their own documents instead of having the legal secretaries or assistants do it for them. Thus, the question: will attorney e-filing of their own documents eventually lead to another round of support staff layoffs like we experienced during the Great Recession? Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Legal Fee Dispute Case Law Does Not Change

November 29, 2016

Whenever I make a deduction in a legal bill, I set out a reason for making the deduction.  Usually the reason I set out is grounded in an ethics rule or in well settled case law. And it is not unusual that the case I cite to is 20 or 30 years or more old.  As a result, I have been asked why I do not cite to more recent cases. One of the main reasons I generally give for not citing to more recent case law is that that often there is no more recent case law. Also the case law does not change in this area.

One of the older cases I frequently cite to is Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983). Hensley is considered to be the seminal case in attorney fee dispute cases on a number of issues including the burden of proof on an attorney seeking fees in a fee dispute case (prove and establish the reasonableness of each dollar, each hour, above zero”).  Since Hensley was decided in 1983, it has been cited to in 12,487 cases involving fee disputes. That’s 31 cases a month or 1 case every day for the past 33 years including the latest case, Blake v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., 110316 NYSDC, 14 Civ. 23340 (JGK)(S.D. N.Y. Nov. 3, 2016).

Another big reason that the case law on legal fee disputes does not change is that unlike tort law that may be “evolving,” legal fee dispute case law stays the same. And unlike some tort law that may be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, legal fee dispute case law does not shift from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As a result, there are very few, if any, splits of authority or “minority” views on legal fee dispute issues.

This main reason for all of this uniformity in fee bill dispute law is that courts basically are applying ABA Model Rule 1.5 (Fees). Read the rest of this entry »


Court Zingers in Legal Billing Cases

July 21, 2016

Over the years, I have read hundreds of cases from throughout the U.S. involving fee billing issues.  From these cases, I have extracted key holdings that I often rely on in making decisions on whether certain billing entries should be reduced or eliminated.

As with most all cases, the holdings in cases on fee billing issues are often very dry. And just like in other cases, courts in fee billing cases sometime get in a good dig or have a pithy way of putting across their point or sending a clear signal to the attorneys seeking approval of their fees that they are on to their games.

Here are some examples. Read the rest of this entry »


Soaring Out of Sight: Billing Rates Climb To $2,000 an Hour at Some BIG Law Firms

June 22, 2016

story in the February 9 Wall Street Journal reported that billing rates at some BIG law firms had risen $1,500 an hour despite weak demand and low inflation. Now, according to a study published in May by BTI Consulting Group, the top rate at some BIG law firms has risen to $2,000 an hour.

It seem like it was only yesterday (actually it was 5 years ago) that I posted two pieces on lawyers at BIG law firms that were charging $1,000 an hour. In one blog post, I wondered why it was that some corporations were willing to pay such high hourly rates when very good lawyers at much lower billing rates were readily available.

I answered that question in a follow-up blog post when I reported that an expert who regularly consults with big corporations told me that big corporations actually view lower billing rates at a firm as a negative. Apparently very good $500 an hour lawyers are not looked at in the same favorable way that mediocre $1,000 lawyers are simply based upon their hourly billing rates. For more insight on this issue, you might want to read my blog post entitled “Why Corporate Lawyers are From Mars and Claims Managers are From Earth.”

Of course, as I have warned many times in the past in this blog, BIG law firms and overbilling go hand-in-hand. This is why  in a post entitled “Getting Caught up in BIG Law Firm’s Protocol,” I warned against ever, ever, ever hiring a BIG law firm to do what a smaller law firm can also do. This is because my experience has taught me that BIG law firms are  the worst of the worst when it comes to overbilling clients.

Over the years, I have reviewed legal bills from thousands of law firms throughout the U.S. involving every type of legal matter imaginable. Invariably whenever I have reviewed legal bills from BIG law firms, the results are the same. BIG law firms always overstaff, overwork, overbill, and most importantly, they tend to overlook any real opportunities to quickly and efficiently resolve a matter for a client.

And I am not the only one who believes this. I have heard this time and again from other lawyers – especially those lawyers who have taken on clients that were the subject of abusive billing by BIG law firms. To illustrate my point, in a recent post on a state bar listserve I belong to an attorney was seeking help for a potential client who had left a very large law firm because he was tired of being overbilled by multiple attorneys who were doing the same work and not getting anywhere.

So if you have a friend who is thinking about hiring a BIG law firm – no matter how big or serious the matter is – don’t let her do it! Warn her that she is likely not only letting herself in for overstaffing and overbilling, but very likely for an unsatisfactory result as well.

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If you have questions on legal bills from BIG law firms, please feel free to contact me for answers at jconlon@legalpointsllc.com. Dealing with BIG law firm invoices is my specialty. 


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

June 7, 2016

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Following The Three “R’s” of Legal Bill Review

March 23, 2016

Reviewing entries in a legal bill involves more than reviewing those entries for compliance with a company’s litigation and billing guidelines. It also involves reviewing the entries for ”reasonableness” as that term has been defined by the ABA Rules of Prof. Conduct and well settled case law.

Reviewing legal bill entries for reasonableness always involves reviewing for three things:

  • The reasonableness of the “task” performed
  • The reasonableness of the ”person” performing the task
  • The reasonableness of the ”time” spent performing the task

In my seminars on How to Review Legal Bills Like a Pro©, I often ask participants what do they look for first when they review a legal bill. Many times the answer back is they look first at the time billed for the tasks. However, that is the last thing that should be looked at when reviewing a legal bill.

To properly review a legal bill (and save time), it is important to follow a disciplined 3-step approach. Read the rest of this entry »


What Insurers Can learn From General Electric’s Jack Welch About Lowering Outside Legal Costs

January 27, 2016

Back when he was running GE, Jack Welch famously argued that leaders should fire the bottom 10 percent of their workforce each year. He believed that doing so was a necessary part of an orderly continuous improvement process.

So, as a part of your own continuous improvement process, you should fire the 10 percent bottom of your workforce. Right?  Okay, maybe your HR Department will not let you do that. Besides, that probably would not do much to lower your outside legal costs. But what you can do (today, even) to lower your outside legal costs is to fire the bottom 10 percent of your outside counsel. Read the rest of this entry »