I haven’t worked in the legal industry for very long, but I am familiar with the ethical practice of not double billing your time. For example, if you are typing an email to one client, while one the phone with another, you can’t bill them both for that time. Naturally, that’s to encourage you to stop and pay all of your attention to the client you are billing for that time, which is a good practice. Typically, the ethical line extends down to paralegals and others, but it’s unclear if it extends to litigation support. Here’s why:
It’s very, very common for me to have one process, such a Summation load, running, while I’m working on something else. Would it be ethical for me to bill both clients? Now, we get around the ethical question easily enough, we don’t bill for “machine time”. So, even though that load file may take an hour or two to finish loading, I typically only the bill the amount of time I spent setting it up and starting the process.
On the other hand, one of the folks I talked to at the E-Discovery conference in New York suggested that as the very reason he doesn’t recommend law firms process electronic discovery in-house. His argument was, if you only bill your time, and not machine time, then you end up giving away the resources. So, while it may take the better part of the day, and over night, to process discovery documents through a program like IPro’s E-ScanIt, you can’t use that machine for anything else, and all that processing is only a cost, not a revenue generator. I haven’t even mentioned the cost of data storage either, which is getting larger and larger every day. His argument was, for large cases, ship all of that to a vendor and have them host it, then simply turn around and pass that cost directly to the client.
That conversation got me thinking, that we really do “give away” quite a lot of our resources (and that’s even assuming all the hours we bill actually gets billed to the client, and not written off by the attorney), but is that a bad thing, or does it keep costs lower for our clients, which we also kind of like to do whenever possible?
Any way you look at it, there’s no easy answer. What we do now, seems to work for us, but I’m not sure it always will, in every case. We’ll need to be flexible on this and see where each case takes us.
I’d love to hear from some law bloggers, lawyers, or other folks working in the legal industry about how they handle this. Comment away!