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Intraoffice Communications Come Under Scrutiny of Clients and Courts

Intraoffice communications between members of a law firm frequently result in excessive fees and bill padding. Although occasional intraoffice emails, phone calls, meetings and memos are essential, billing for communications between members of the same firm should be extremely limited. Such communications should only occur where strategic case discussions are necessary and vital to the case. Many times, intraoffice communications are billed to the client where the subject of such communications is not substantive in matter. Examples of unnecessary intraoffice communications include assigning tasks, providing an update on the status of a task, or following up on the status of a task. Additional scrutiny is warranted where internal communications represent a significant portion of the total billings. Where a bill is littered with entries for non-strategic internal communications, the fees quickly escalate. Because of the risk of bill padding resulting from these communications, billing for internal communications is disfavored by clients of law firms. In fact, many outside counsel billing guidelines prohibit intraoffice communications completely, without even allowing an exception for the rare occasion of essential case discussions.

The dangers of billing for intraoffice communications was recently discussed in Smith v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., No. 14-0107-WS-B, 2015 WL 7185503 (S.D. Al. Nov. 13, 2015) where the court recognized that “[w]hile some communication between a client’s lawyers is necessary, even vital, it must not be allowed to become an easy way to pad billings.” In this case, two attorneys billed approximately 40 hours of intraoffice communications. Given “the excessive use of, and poor recording of,” such communications, the court applied a 20% reduction to these claimed hours. As recognized by the court, bills must be closely scrutinized “to prevent abuse” and such communications should only be tolerated where they add value to the representation of the case.

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