What’s the most annoying thing about the practice of law? You may have a long list, but I bet there’s one thing you on it: the hold music while you’re waiting for a conference call to start. I once tried to compose lyrics to go along with our firm’s music, but my efforts looked a lot like those of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Come to think of it, most everything about a conference call is annoying:
Do you know what else is annoying about conference calls? Some clients don’t want to pay for them. Many clients have their own billing guidelines with concerns about intra-firm conferences. Here is some language from different guidelines that have crossed my desk recently:
- Office conferences among one or more attorneys or paralegals in your firm to discuss [Client X] matters should be kept to a minimum. Generally, numerous office conferences among a partner and one or more associates or paralegals will result in only the partner’s time being credited and the associates’ or paralegals’ time being deleted or adjusted.”
- [Client Y] will also not pay for internal firm conferences or for associates to attend meetings or hearings for the purpose of “associate development.”
- [Client Z] will scrutinize conference calls … and other similar activities in which multiple timekeepers participate. If it is necessary in the considered judgment of the billing partner to have more than one attorney or paralegal participate in an activity, outside counsel should bill for this with discretion and, where the necessity is not compelling or there is any question of the appropriateness of involving multiple timekeepers, obtain the prior approval of [Z] Counsel. [Z] reserves the right to not pay for the time of multiple activity participants when the appropriate discretion is not being applied.
Then, again, at least some clients prefer them to more expensive alternatives:
- Alternatives to travel, such as conference calls, should be used where appropriate.
So, what to do? A few suggestions. As the client relationship lawyer, know what your client expects. Staff and schedule accordingly. When you start work on a new matter, ask the relationship lawyer if there are guidelines, and get to know them. Lastly, if your firm doesn’t have one in place already, develop an internal review process so that someone (other than the relationship lawyer) has a chance to review and raise any concerns whenever a client asks your firm to follow its guidelines.