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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ethics Quiz: Can You Double Bill Clients When Traveling?

From today's ABA e-news:

Question:  You are taking a two hour plane trip from Chicago to New York to conduct a deposition in a matter involving client A. While on the plane, you review materials for a brief you will be filing for client B the following week. You normally bill clients for your time spent traveling on their behalf. Can you bill clients A and B for two hours each for a total of 4 hours?

Answer:  Below the fold.

Formal Opinion 93-379

In addressing the hypothetical[] regarding . . . the airplane flight on behalf of one client while working on another client's matters . . . , it is helpful to consider these questions, not from the perspective of what a client could be forced to pay, but rather from the perspective of what the lawyer actually earned. . . . A lawyer who flies for six hours for one client, while working for five hours on behalf of another, has not earned eleven billable hours. . . .  Rather than looking to profit from . . . the desire to get work done rather than watch a movie . . . the lawyer who has agreed to bill solely on the basis of time spent is obliged to pass the benefits of these economies on to the client. The practice of billing several clients for the same time or work product, since it results in the earning of an unreasonable fee, therefore is contrary to the mandate of the Model Rules. Model Rule 1.5.

There have been several state and local bar association ethics opinions issued on this topic. They are in general agreement with the ABA position. See , e.g., Alaska Ethics Op. 964 (1996); Nassau County (N.Y.) Ethics Ops. 95-4 (1995) and 95-10 (1995).

This rule also prohibits simultaneous court appearances on behalf of multiple clients and recycling work product for more than one client.

Update:  The WSJ Law Blog has more here.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2006/07/ethics_quiz_can.html

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Tracked on Jul 26, 2006 8:08:25 AM

Comments

I agree with the position, but in a national practice it is a rare thing nowadays to be able to bill for pure travel time, so it is largely a moot point.

Posted by: Arthur Pendennis | Jul 26, 2006 9:19:45 AM