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Billing For Clerical Tasks – A Form of Double Billing?

Courts are often tasked with determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to award the prevailing party in various types of litigation. In Snell v. North Thurston School District, the Court was tasked with determining the amount of attorneys’ fees to be awarded to the prevailing party in an American with Disabilities Act suit. 2015 WL 8621913 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 14, 2015). The Plaintiff, Wendy Snell, successfully sued her daughter’s school district for unlawful discrimination by failing to accommodate her daughter’s disabilities. After determining that the Plaintiff was a prevailing party under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Court considered several issues to determine the proper award of attorneys’ fees. These issues included the determination of a reasonable hourly rate and reasonable hours expended in light of block billing within the Plaintiff’s attorney’s invoices, the Plaintiff’s degree of success, and most notably, clerical and duplicative work billed by a paralegal.

Certain tasks billed by the paralegal were deemed duplicative and deducted because these tasks were performed in a previous suit between the same parties under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Further, the Court deducted 7.6 hours of time billed by the paralegal because it was determined that the tasks were clerical in nature. These tasks included filing, scheduling and maintaining files. Id at 3.

Firms routinely argue that clerical tasks should not be deducted from legal invoices because these tasks were necessary. The term “clerical task” does not imply that the task was unnecessary or superfluous. Filing and scheduling are certainly important tasks that must be performed in the ordinary course of business at any law firm. The Snell decision identifies the justification for deducting clerical tasks from legal invoices.

The Court makes it clear that law firms are indeed compensated for clerical tasks, although indirectly, through the overhead charged in the hourly rate charged by attorneys and paralegals. Id. Clients should not be billed at attorney or paralegal rates for tasks requiring no legal skill or judgment because the hourly rate of attorneys and paralegals is designed to cover the expenses incurred by the firm for the costs associated with retaining support staff to perform clerical tasks. Billing for clerical tasks is a form of double billing because the firms are already indirectly compensated for clerical tasks through the hourly rate of paralegals and attorneys performing legal tasks. Billing for clerical tasks can be a profit source for the firm that is generated at the clients’ expense.

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