One of the perks of working in the legal timekeeping space is that I come across interesting thoughts and ideas written on the subject and I get inspired or intrigued. That happened recently when I came across Gaston Kroub’s article “Beyond Biglaw: 5 Tips for Dealing with Billing Guidelines” on the Above the Law site.
Guidelines Are Your Responsibility
In his article, Kroub offers some tips for taking on the burden (and responsibility) of your clients’ billing guidelines:
- He suggests always asking your in-house contact for the billing guidelines if you have not already received them with the signed engagement letter. As he says, “It will make you look sophisticated, and attentive to making sure you handle the new relationship properly.”
- When you do get the billing guidelines, he recommends actually reading them carefully, looking for things that are confusing or irrelevant to the engagement. Then he advocates for ensuring your fellow timekeepers on the engagement are all on the same page.
- He suggests thinking about your engagement to determine if there are any issues worth bringing up to your client. For instance, billing guidelines regarding travel are common. But if you are “New York counsel for an East Texas patent case, you may need to discuss travel budgeting and ground rules in greater detail.”
- The start of the engagement is the time to clear up ambiguities. Talk to your in-house contact to discuss any questions you have and give you relevant information as early as possible, especially if you suspect your engagement might require deviation from the ground rules.
Make No Mistake
OK, so now that you’ve got it all straight with the client, how do you make following the rules happen in practical terms? Especially when you have many clients and all of the rules differ just enough to make remembering everything darn near impossible?
We’ve noticed that these are the things in billing guidelines that often go wrong:
- Incorrect codes for a task, activity or expense
- Character count limits exceeded
- Word count limits exceeded
- Stop words, such as Prepare, Review, Work on File, Research, Scan, Miscellaneous, etc.
- Block billing, when the rule prohibits it
- Attorneys directly billing the matter, when the rule prohibits them from doing so
When these errors are made, bills are rejected. It just looks unprofessional and it’s a pain for accounting. (When e-bills are involved it can also cause cash flow issues. Typically every reject and resubmit cycle takes 10 days.) Finally, it can needlessly erode trust with your client.
The Timekeeping Fix
The ideal is for the errors to never make it to the client; in other words, rather than accounting needing to correct them, ensure that the bills are right from the start.
Timekeeping systems come into play here. Some, like Smart Time, are capable of automatically checking for errors before time entries are committed to billing. Only Smart Time takes it further and allows you to store the billing guidelines. My advice is this: Once you get everything squared up with the client (as proposed by Kroub), let technology do the heavy lifting to ensure compliance.