Education – The Path to Fair Fees

Legal research

Legal research (Photo credit: gwilmore)

The ABA Journal posted an article on Wednesday titled Firms Wave Goodbye to Billing for Research Costs by Rachael M. Zahorsky.  Ms. Zahorsky reports that law firms increasingly are taking legal research costs off of client invoices:

With clients increasingly primed to demand discounts, balk at hourly rates and refuse to pay for associate lawyers, a greater number of law firms have found themselves absorbing legal research costs as a way to shrink their clients’ tabs.

More and more billing partners are knocking research costs off invoices before they’re even submitted to clients, [according to] legal consultant Rob Mattern of Mattern & Associates.

Citing clients’ distrust that law firms are billing more for legal research than it actually costs them, Mattern & Associates sees a trend of “clients who either balked at or outright refused to pay for legal research.”  Ms. Zahorsky notes that some law firms have policies to charge clients their actual research costs, while others absorb such costs in their bottom lines. According to a Bloomberg Law survey (97 firms from 50 to over 400 attorneys), 43% of law firms now absorb more legal research costs than in 2010, and more in transactional matters than in litigation.

Noting that “the cat’s out of the bag,” Mr. Mattern suggests that:

The firms that do a good job of collecting and documenting [legal research costs] and have a defensible legal research policy will be fine . . . . But the cat’s out of the bag. Clients are more educated, and the attorneys billing will be asking their firms, ‘Is this a fair recovery?’

The lesson to be learned? Make sure to address legal research billing up front. Inquire what your attorney’s policy is for billing legal research costs. What is s/he charged by Westlaw, Lexis, or any other legal research vendors, and whether/how is that cost passed on to you?

Demonstrate to your attorney that you are an educated legal consumer. It is truly the path to fair fees.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970. 

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