Knowing the answer to the question, “Can I bill for this task?” is one of the most typical problems that young attorneys confront. Showing up in court, speaking with your client about his or her legal concerns, and writing legal papers are all clearly chargeable services, but what about making copies after the secretary has gone home for the evening? More senior attorneys frequently do not offer clear answers to these queries, and guessing is frequently used. When your customer raises these concerns about a bill that reflects dubious work at attorney rates, you may be subjected to even more scrutiny, leading to late payments, disagreements, and a general loss of goodwill that may be costly. It’s important to note that some paralegals aren’t considered paralegals in some jurisdictions/states.
A paralegal’s job description isn’t always obvious. Lawyers are, of course, extensively regulated by the state bar associations in which they practice. A person cannot practice law or hold oneself out as a lawyer unless they have taken the bar , and are abiding by the state regulations. Paralegals, on the other hand, are typically not obliged to possess any specific licenses or certificates, and while paralegal training programs exist, their profession is mostly defined by what they cannot do rather than what they can. The paralegal profession emerged in the 1960s as a method to make legal services more accessible to people, allowing those who would have previously been called “legal secretaries” to undertake more legally substantial work. This leads us to the core of our inquiry: which paralegal duties should appear on a client bill and which should not? You should refer to the applicable rules for your state bar association once again, but a general rule across jurisdictions is that your bill should reflect time that requires the use of legal skills and that an attorney might otherwise do on his or her own but has delegated to the paralegal with the attorney’s supervision. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following: locating and retrieving pertinent case law, legislation, or other legal precedent, trying to figure out if a legal precedent is still valid, ensuring legal correctness by double-checking citations or other duties, assisting with discovery, such as document review, gathering important papers from clients, transmitting to the court and opposing parties, and creating legal papers such as forms, letters, and other legal documentation.
So what exactly are billing rates for paralegals? That is up to the law firm and what the market will tolerate. Typically, the paralegal will bill 50% to 75% of the lawyer’s rate. Establishing a professional-looking bill with accurate time entries and a mutually agreed upon approval process will help improve your collection efforts significantly.