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Debate rages over legal billing in US

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/04/13

The negative perception of private practice lawyers as people who are extremely keen to make a great deal of money as quickly as possible remained unshaken last week after a series of DLA Piper emails apparently referring to the 'churning' of a client's bill were leaked to the media, causing ructions across the legal world.

However, several general counsel have told the New York Law Journal that this release is unlikely to lead to any changes in client/firm relations or the billing review process - not least because measures are already being put in place to enhance transparency between legal organisations and the businesses they work for.

David Brill, the president of the Association of Corporate Counsel's Greater New York Chapter, admitted that the "flippant" tone of the emails was certainly a shock (given that the majority of lawyers are known for their gravitas, and avoid humour at all times because it can affect their concentration on ancient legal writs).

However, he stressed that this has simply stirred up an issue that is already in the spotlight for those working in the industry.

"The underlying issue [of bills reflecting work performed] has been front and center for in-house lawyers for some time," explained Mr Brill.

Billing processes are already placed under a great deal of scrutiny by legal professionals, conscious that the current economic climate has made a virtue of frugality for even the largest companies.

Michael Caplan, the chief operating officer in the general counsel's office at Marsh & McLennan Companies, pointed out that there is still a tendency for bills to charge for too many lawyers.

"I get bills…where I see multiple partners, multiple associates, people working past 12 hour days, multiple people working on conference calls," he noted, suggesting that better staffing processes could help reduce the demands of legal firms.