Some clients have indicated that they do not wish to (or will not) pay for the cost of training lawyers or bringing them up the learning curve with respect to a particular substantive area of the law or a particular type of case or transaction. Resolving this issue requires communication with the client in order to ascertain the nature of the concern.
Provision by the lawyer or law firm of cost-effective services to clients requires that certain tasks be performed by less experienced lawyers whose hourly billing rates are lower but who, in the judgment of the managing attorney on the project, have sufficient expertise and experience to perform such task. Lack of experience should be appropriately reflected in a lawyer’s hourly rate. . . . While clients may request that only certain levels of lawyers work on their account, if they do make such a request, the lawyer should explain that such external control by the client may result in less cost-effective management by the law firm of a particular matter. The lawyer should also explain to the client that it may incur delays and experience a staffing conflicts when the chosen senior individual or individuals are not available.
If the primary purpose of participation in a meeting or project by a less experienced lawyer in a law firm is to train such lawyer, then the lawyer’s time should not be billed to the client.
Staffing is related to the issues surrounding the “Learning Curve” previously discussed, but is a distinct issue. The touchstones for determining such issues as staffing should be cost-effectiveness and quality of legal service to the client. Staffing should be discussed with the client if the client has expressed an interest in such information and must be disclosed if the lawyer has created an expectation that the matter will be handled by a particular lawyer or one with a certain experience level and such is not in fact the case. . . .
In recognition of the value of continuity of representation, law firms should endeavor to staff a specific client matter with a relatively consistent team of lawyers. If a change must be made in a critical member of the team (other than in response to a client request), and this change necessitates any significant expenditure of time by the new member of the team in getting up to speed, counsel should make appropriate downward adjustments to the fees billed in such matter to avoid unreasonable charges to the client.
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May 16, 2005
– from Principles in Billing for Legal Services (1996), promulgated by the ABA Task Force on Lawyer Business Ethics (excerpted in Business Lawyer, 51 Bus. Law 1303, Aug. 1996):
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