Six ideas for rules that control fees billed for intra-firm meetings

Inside lawyers squawk about internal conferences at law firms and how timekeepers bill for them. Partners squawk back, because they understand that it is valuable to consult with peers, delegate work, and share knowledge, the purposes, that is, of internal meetings and conference calls.

Even so, general counsel have rolled out a number of techniques to try to limit opportunities for what they perceive as abuse from padded intra-firm gatherings.

  1. Only one person can bill at an internal conference, even if that person has the highest hourly rate. Or limit the billing to the second highest rate.

  2. No more than two partners can bill for any meeting or conference.

  3. The total fees billed cannot exceed some amount, such as $1,500 an hour.

  4. No associates can bill time.

  5. No one can bill more than an hour for any meeting.

  6. Total meeting time during a month cannot exceed some absolute amount or some percentage of the monthly bill.

One can also dream up, but I can hardly endorse, formulas of people plus time plus rates (sort of like age plus years of service allows retirement). For example, a maximum of two timekeepers charging, not more than one hour for a conference, and a maximum of $400 an hour.

Whatever tourniquets try to tie off the presumed bleeding, they are very hard to enforce. It all comes down to judgment, circumstances, proportion, and perception. Rules such as the above generate disputes, micromanagement, and ill-will. In any event, almost always the in-house attorney in charge of a matter will over-ride the department’s rules. Viva fixed fees!

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