Expert Legal Bill Reviews
(also known as Legal Bill Audits)
Since 1993, Devil's Advocate has reviewed thousands of legal bills from many hundreds (probably over a thousand) law firms -- totaling well over $1 billion (we don't keep or publish marketing details on our projects for marketing purposes). As legal bill examiners, DA is the leading expert on legal bills, legal bill reviews, legal fees, and related issues. As you may have noticed already, we literally wrote the book on legal fees, as well as most of the serious articles. And we're contacted regularly by the press when they have legal fee and ethics issues. We're also called in by Congress, many federal, state, and local agencies, major insurance and other companies around the US and beyond, and others for our expertise.
The most typical situations leading to bill reviews are either (1) a lawyer-client fee dispute or (2) a fee shifting situation where one party may claim fees against an opponent, by law or agreement. But legal bill reviews can also be a fee management tool and they are used many other ways. Some bill reviews lead to expert testimony, but many more are conducted behind the scenes, either to monitor legal bills as they are issued or to evaluate a potential fee or malpractice dispute. (Many times the law firm never knows they were reviewed by their client.) Bill reviews are used to evaluate firm performance, and not just to manage legal fees. DA does not perform "nickel & dime" audits or reviews just to pressure firms to lower bills. Indeed, DA often supports claims for fees -- we always support the reasonable fee. (We do not, however, rubberstamp legal fee claims: Although the bill review process is flexible depending on the information available, for example, we use the same approach and applicable standards to review all bills.)
Our work is done confidentially: We're lawyers but normally hired as expert consultants, not a client's legal representation. Client confidentiality is also why we don't brag about our clients and engagements.
Our work is done independently: Clients are welcome to comment, but we make the final call on our opinions and conclusions. Our independence also helps us to convince even the most stubborn lawyers that their positions are unreasonable or vulnerable. Our independence also shields clients from, e.g. suggestions of bad faith.
Legal bill reviews are sometimes called "legal bill audits," but we avoid the latter term -- bill review is more accurate. We pre-screen all projects to avoid conflicts of interest and quote our fee. A legal bill review is how we begin many engagements, from making suggestions for fee management, to firm selection, to pursuing a malpractice case, and so on. Many times the bill review is just the beginning, other times it's the end of the process.
Devil's Advocate reviews legal bills to determine whether the time billed is necessary and reasonable, applying whatever standard the relevant law would (or should) apply. (We also review alternative legal fee arrangements and use an "hourly" review to demonstrate cost-effectiveness of alternatives.) To conduct the review, we generally need copies of the bills, any supporting documentation from the law firm (whatever the firm will provide). any billing agreement between client and firm, correspondence between client and firm about the bills or management of the case, and the work product that corresponds with the bill entries. If the bills are available on computer disk, that may save time in reviewing bills and allow us to conduct additional testing of the bills. Paper bills may also be scanned into computer-readable for m.
Significant w ork product that we examine as part of a review, if available, may include not only the briefs or memoranda prepared by the firm presenting the bill, but also work product from their opponents or the court that caused the firm to expend time. For example, if the bill shows time spent in reviewing an opponent's motion, it would be useful for us to see the opponent's motion as well as the firm's response. We can also price-tag significant tasks and reconcile bills with budgets, especially if the firm has provided properly detailed task-based bills.
To make our review as cost-effective as possible, we generally make a preliminary examination of the bill and readily available information to determine whether problems worth pursuing further might exist. Often this initial review provides enough information to establish a reasonable fee, thereby making further review by Devil's Advocate unnecessary. When necessary and feasible, however, Devil's Advocate can take the bill review further, in a fashion comparable to financial audits of accounting records, by going on-site to the law firm, checking underlying data, verifying expense and time entries, interviewing persons with relevant information, and examining other available, relevant information. We can also seek outside benchmarks to establish reasonableness, for example, with a survey of hourly rates in a given jurisdiction. (Beware of most of the published surveys, however: They tend to be statistically flawed, relying on biased, inaccurate, and inadequate data -- like 'suggested retail' rates.
Assuming that our client already has the basic information we need to review on hand, our examination can be conducted confidentially, with or without the law firm's knowledge and cooperation. If the lawyers cooperate, we can discuss preliminary findings with them and analyze their explanations. If the lawyers do not wish to cooperate, the client may at least wish to notify them, in writing, that they are expected to preserve all billing and work product files. (We can also address and rebut whatever response the law firm or opponent may provide.)
We generally provide an oral or written report on our preliminary findings, in a format acceptable to our client. What the client (or its legal counsel) does with that information is then up to the client. If needed, we can participate in an informal or formal presentation of our results, e.g. by affidavit, in a settlement conference, or by testifying at a hearing, arbitration, deposition, or trial.
Our fees for reviewing a bill can be billed by the hour or as a f lat or percentage fee -- our billing policy contains details of these alternatives. (We do not work on a contingent fee basis.) For most bills, our fees for examining the bills and preparing our report are less than 5% of the original amount of the bill -- fees and expenses, paid or unpaid -- the size and format of the bills, along with other factors, determine our fee. Our participation in further proceedings, e.g. by being deposed, assisting with trial preparation, and testifying, is usually billed by the hour, unless other arrangements can be made.
Remember that, although the Devil's Advocate can analyze even the stalest bill, our philosophy is that it should be more cost-effective to monitor fees, as well as staffing, strategy, and tactics, from the very beginning. The Devil's Advocate can assist in attorney selection and negotiation of a fee agreement, before counsel logs the first billable hour. We can then monitor the engagement as it progresses, watching for early warning signs of trouble or unnecessary expense, going far beyond what one can accomplish merely by challenging a cold bill.