It is not uncommon to see law firms attempt to bill ordinarily paralegal tasks at attorney rates. Courts have started cracking down on this unethical practice. One such example of this is Guerrero v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which the court held that a significant portion of the firm’s charges billed at the full attorney rate would have been better characterized as paralegal work, and should have been billed as such. No. 12-689V, 2015 WL 7820966 (Fed. Cl. Nov. 16, 2015).
The Special Master had deducted 2.2 attorney hours, totaling $781 from Petitioner’s fee award, and awarded 1.5 paralegal hours, totaling $187.50, for billing entries which he found reflected tasks more properly suited to a paralegal hourly rate than an attorney rate. Id at 159. The Special Master re-characterized the hours spent on email and telephonic communications regarding medical records, the expert’s fees, costs, invoice, litigation expenses, Petitioner’s social security number, drafting an Election to Accept Judgment, and a Statement of Completion, and the court proceeded to affirm his re-characterizations. Id. Had this not been caught, the firm would have easily pocketed nearly $500 to which it was not entitled.
In Shabazz v. City of New York, the court found that a substantial number of entries, twenty-three in total, were improperly billed at attorney rates. No. 1:14-CV-6417-GHW, 2015 WL 7779267 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 2, 2015). These entries included time the attorney, Mr. Harvis, spent conducting internet searches, reviewing ECF notices, updating calendar entries, preparing civil cover sheets and affidavits of service, and requesting medical records, and were billed at the full attorney rate of $400 per hour. Id at 4. Ultimately, the court found that the entries were clerical or more suitable for a paralegal, rather than an attorney, and reduced the rate charged for 3.9 hours of work that Mr. Harvis billed at $400 per hour to the paralegal rate of $75 per hour. Id. This saved the client a significant $1,267.
Clients must be more diligent in reviewing their legal bills. By reviewing them with increased scrutiny, or having a third-party auditing service do so, chances are, they will find ways to keep more money in their pockets.