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Average Billing Rates for Lawyers in North Carolina - PDF

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					     Costly
     Managing lawyers’ use of cellular
     phones requires steadfast attention
     to expenses and safety.

     BY PHILLIP M. PERRY
                                                                  Calls
     Like many law firms, Patterson Dilthey Clay Bryson & Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina, allows its
     lawyers to select their cell phones and carrier plans. It’s a piecemeal approach to the purchase of
     services and a legacy from the old days when conducting client business using mobile phones was the
     exception rather than the rule.
        That might make it a prime time to negotiate group rates for communications technology. Or at least
     that’s what the firm’s Office Manager, Danny Burk, had hoped.
        “The plan would have shaved 5 percent off our bill,” he said. “That would have amounted to about
     $150 a month total for our 39 lawyers.”
        The devil was in the details: To be eligible for the corporate plan, the firm would have to
     submit a stack of paperwork, starting with a list of participating users. Concluded Burk: “Putting
     together the application would be too time consuming.”

     ABSORBING COSTS
     As Burk’s experience suggests, sometimes it’s too expensive to save money. Law firms looking to
     cut cell phone costs are challenged by a decline in the cost of telecommunications and the rising
     cost of overhead.
         “It has been my experience that the labor expended to manage a rigid
     program consumes more than the savings offered by the cell phone company
     for a corporate account,” said Burk.
         Another reason for avoiding a corporate plan, according to Burk, is the desire
     among lawyers to choose their phones, carriers and features. Freedom of choice
     can have practical benefits. For example, users tend to select carriers that offer
     the best signals to their homes, from where they place many calls.




46   LEGAL MANAGEMENT   NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006
LEGAL MANAGEMENT   NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006   47
            SHORTCUT
            The use of mobile phones for law firm business creates critical risks for lawyers and the firms they represent. Legal
            administrators can manage their firms’ exposure by emphasizing cell phone safety following through with appropriate
            policies and training.



              “It works much better for us for lawyers to be             Such lawsuits are bound to occur with increasing
          responsible for their own communications devices               frequency as cell phone usage proliferates.
          and hand in their bills each month,” said Burk.                    “Most such court cases attempt to link traffic
          Changes in the dynamics of cell phone billing have             accident injuries and employer liability under two
          also caused some law firms to stop passing along               theories,” said Peter A. Susser, a partner in the
          costs to clients. Consider the experience of Phoenix,          Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, an
          Arizona-based Bonnett Fairbourn Friedman & Balint.             employment law firm. “First, under the theory of
              “Up until three or four years ago, we were tracking        negligence, the employer is charged with permitting
          cell phone calls,” said Carolyn C. Parker, the firm’s          individuals to utilize cell phones for business purpos-
          Administrator. “Then carriers started selling packages         es without providing proper training and instruction.
          with ‘x’ number of free minutes.”                              Second, under the age old concept of ‘respondeat
              Under these new plans it became awkward, if                superior,’ the employer is responsible for damages
          not impossible, to allocate free minutes among                 caused by individuals when they act within the
          clients. Plus, it was unfair to charge some clients            scope of their employment.”
          and not others, based merely on available free                     But there’s more. Your law firm also risks costly
          minutes. The kicker was that the State Bar of Arizona          fines when cell phone users violate the law.
          requires law firms to seek client reimbursement only               “We are seeing more state and local govern-
          for actual expenses.                                           ments banning the use of handheld cell phones
              “We determined that it would be impossible to              while driving,” said Susser. “Among them are New
          charge clients fairly,” said Parker.                           York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. And around
              The firm stopped auditing cell phone bills and             the world about 40 countries have banned the use
          matching individual entries to clients and matter              of handheld phones.”
          numbers. The process simply was not cost effective.                Law firms can obviate expensive lawsuits by
              “Consider that it may take a lawyer an hour to go          instructing all individuals on good cell phone practices.
          through a monthly bill,” said Parker. “That’s billable             “We do our best to convince people that they
          time at $350 to $400 an hour. Given the dollar                 need to be very careful,” said Parker at Bonnett
          amounts involved for cell phone usage, the effort              Fairbourn, et al. “We say that we prefer they do
          does not pay off.”                                             not drive and use cell phones at the same time,
              Today, the law firm expenses the shareholders’             but it is hard to convince them. We do suggest they
          monthly bills, which average $55 to $60, as over-              use their headsets if they must use their phones
          head. The lawyers track cell phone time for each               while driving.”
          client, who is billed accordingly.                                 Patterson Dilthey, et al., holds periodic safety
                                                                         briefings that emphasize the importance of hands-
          AVOIDING RISK                                                  free devices. In many parts of the United States,
          These law firms’ experiences suggest that the cost             local regulations are coming into play.
          of cell phone usage has fallen to a point where                    “I anticipate the state or city mandating hands-
          micro-management is costlier than the potential                free devices before long, and that's probably a good
          savings. Where law firms face a real financial risk,           thing,” said Burk.
          though, is the possibility of law suits filed when
          accidents occur as lawyers talk on cell phones while           ‘DRIVE NOW, TALK LATER’
          driving. Indeed, one East Coast law firm faces a $30           Should law firms go still further and prohibit the use of
          million lawsuit in the death of a young girl struck by         cell phones while driving, even if hands-free devices
          a lawyer who was using a cell phone while driving.             are utilized? This approach falls in line with a “drive

48   LEGAL MANAGEMENT   NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006
            SHORTCUT
            The use of mobile phones for law firm business creates critical risks for lawyers and the firms they represent. Legal
            administrators can manage their firms’ exposure by emphasizing cell phone safety following through with appropriate
            policies and training.



              “It works much better for us for lawyers to be             Such lawsuits are bound to occur with increasing
          responsible for their own communications devices               frequency as cell phone usage proliferates.
          and hand in their bills each month,” said Burk.                    “Most such court cases attempt to link traffic
          Changes in the dynamics of cell phone billing have             accident injuries and employer liability under two
          also caused some law firms to stop passing along               theories,” said Peter A. Susser, a partner in the
          costs to clients. Consider the experience of Phoenix,          Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, an
          Arizona-based Bonnett Fairbourn Friedman & Balint.             employment law firm. “First, under the theory of
              “Up until three or four years ago, we were tracking        negligence, the employer is charged with permitting
          cell phone calls,” said Carolyn C. Parker, the firm’s          individuals to utilize cell phones for business purpos-
          Administrator. “Then carriers started selling packages         es without providing proper training and instruction.
          with ‘x’ number of free minutes.”                              Second, under the age old concept of ‘respondeat
              Under these new plans it became awkward, if                superior,’ the employer is responsible for damages
          not impossible, to allocate free minutes among                 caused by individuals when they act within the
          clients. Plus, it was unfair to charge some clients            scope of their employment.”
          and not others, based merely on available free                     But there’s more. Your law firm also risks costly
          minutes. The kicker was that the State Bar of Arizona          fines when cell phone users violate the law.
          requires law firms to seek client reimbursement only               “We are seeing more state and local govern-
          for actual expenses.                                           ments banning the use of handheld cell phones
              “We determined that it would be impossible to              while driving,” said Susser. “Among them are New
          charge clients fairly,” said Parker.                           York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. And around
              The firm stopped auditing cell phone bills and             the world about 40 countries have banned the use
          matching individual entries to clients and matter              of handheld phones.”
          numbers. The process simply was not cost effective.                Law firms can obviate expensive lawsuits by
              “Consider that it may take a lawyer an hour to go          instructing all individuals on good cell phone practices.
          through a monthly bill,” said Parker. “That’s billable             “We do our best to convince people that they
          time at $350 to $400 an hour. Given the dollar                 need to be very careful,” said Parker at Bonnett
          amounts involved for cell phone usage, the effort              Fairbourn, et al. “We say that we prefer they do
          does not pay off.”                                             not drive and use cell phones at the same time,
              Today, the law firm expenses the shareholders’             but it is hard to convince them. We do suggest they
          monthly bills, which average $55 to $60, as over-              use their headsets if they must use their phones
          head. The lawyers track cell phone time for each               while driving.”
          client, who is billed accordingly.                                 Patterson Dilthey, et al., holds periodic safety
                                                                         briefings that emphasize the importance of hands-
          AVOIDING RISK                                                  free devices. In many parts of the United States,
          These law firms’ experiences suggest that the cost             local regulations are coming into play.
          of cell phone usage has fallen to a point where                    “I anticipate the state or city mandating hands-
          micro-management is costlier than the potential                free devices before long, and that's probably a good
          savings. Where law firms face a real financial risk,           thing,” said Burk.
          though, is the possibility of law suits filed when
          accidents occur as lawyers talk on cell phones while           ‘DRIVE NOW, TALK LATER’
          driving. Indeed, one East Coast law firm faces a $30           Should law firms go still further and prohibit the use of
          million lawsuit in the death of a young girl struck by         cell phones while driving, even if hands-free devices
          a lawyer who was using a cell phone while driving.             are utilized? This approach falls in line with a “drive

48   LEGAL MANAGEMENT   NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006
                                                                  Instantly Search
                                                                  Terabytes of Text
now, talk later” agenda from the National Highway
                                                                                                            ◆   over two dozen
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. agency                                                          indexed, unindexed,
charged with maintaining safe vehicles and highways.                                                            fielded data and
    “Our guidance is that individuals should not                                                                full-text search
                                                                                                                options
talk on a phone while driving,” said NHTSA
                                                                                                            ◆   highlights hits in
spokesman Rae Tyson. “Unless there is an emer-
                                                                                                                HTML, XML and PDF,
gency, drivers should pull over and park, and then
                                                                                                                while displaying
place their calls.”                                                                                             links, formatting
    The NHTSA notably makes no distinction                                                                      and images
between handheld and hands-free devices.                                                                    ◆   converts other file
    “We have a concern for anything that distracts the                                                          types (word
driver from his or her primary task,” said Tyson. “That                                                         processor, database,
                                                                                                                spreadsheet, email
concern remains even if the driver is using a hands-free
                                                                                                                and attachments,
device. The distraction potential is there regardless.”                                                         ZIP, Unicode, etc.)
    So banning the use of cell phones, even with                                                                to HTML for
                                                                                                                display with
headsets, will maximize driving safety. But is the                               Spider ($199)
approach too draconian for the real world? Not                     Desktop with                                 highlighted hits
                                                                                        er (from $800)
according to some observers.                                       Netw ork with Spid                       ◆   Spider supports
                                                                                                )               static and dynamic
                                                                                  er (from $999
                                                                     eb with Spid
    “As an employment lawyer, I advise policies that
                                                                   W                                            Web content,
                                                                                                        )
maintain the safest working environment while                                            s (from $2,500         with WYSWYG
reducing risk as much as possible,” said Margaret A.               Publish for CD/DVD                           hit-highlighting
                                                                                     Win & .NET
McCausland of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.                 New
                                                                     a   Engine for                         ◆   API supports
                                                           64-bit bet
Her suggestion is to establish the following three-                            Linux                            .NET/.NET 2.0, C++,
pronged policy to reduce liability for accidents                   Engine for                                   Java, SQL databases.
                                                                                                                New .NET/.NET 2.0
when individuals place law firm calls, use law firm
                                                                                                                Spider API
vehicles, chat on firm-issued cell phones or use
electronic devices such as PDAs:                              dtSearch® Reviews
• Individuals may not place law firm-related
    calls while driving any vehicle.                         ◆   “Bottom line: dtSearch manages a terabyte of text
                                                                  in a single index and returns results in less than a
• Individuals driving law firm vehicles may                       second” – InfoWorld
    not place personal calls, even if their
                                                             ◆   “For combing through large amounts of data,
    phones are personally owned rather than                       dtSearch “leads the market”– Network Computing
    firm issued.                                             ◆   “Blindingly fast”– Computer Forensics: Incident
• Individuals may not use firm-issued phones to                   Response Essentials
    place any firm-related or personal calls while           ◆   “Covers all data sources ... powerful Web-based
    driving any vehicle, even if that vehicle is                  engines”– eWEEK
    privately owned.                                         ◆   “Searches at blazing speeds”– Computer Reseller
                                                                  News Test Center
McCausland believes such a comprehensive policy              ◆   “The most powerful document search tool on the
                                                                  market”– Wired Magazine
is of particular value to law firms.
    “In my opinion, law firms are more exposed to            For hundreds more reviews — and developer case
                                                             studies — see www.dtsearch.com
expensive litigation than your average organization,”
she said.
                                                              Contact dtSearch for
    The fact that law firms encourage lawyers to bill
                                                              fully-functional evaluations
for the time they spend on the phone with clients
can be interpreted as an encouragement to talk               The Smart Choice for Text Retrieval ® since 1991
while driving.
    “It’s only a matter of time before another law         1-800-IT-FINDS • www.dtsearch.com
firm gets hit with a huge suit,” said McCausland.

                                                                               LEGAL MANAGEMENT             NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006     49
                          Danny Burk, Office Manager, PATTERSON DILTHEY CLAY BRYSON & ANDERSON , Raleigh, North Carolina


                   expended to manage a rigid program
          “…the labor
          consumes more than the savings offered by the cell
          phone company for a corporate account.”
          POLICIES VARY                                               safety issues and follow through with appropriate
          While a strict cell phone ban would be prudent, not         policies and training.
          everyone agrees it is necessary.                                 “There are really two areas of concern here,” said
              “A few organizations might completely ban all           McCausland. “One is safety, and the other is the reduc-
          cell phone use while driving,” said Susser. “But the        tion of liability. The first is more important: You want to
          majority seems to take a more realistic position that       maintain the safety of your lawyers and staff, and the
          attempts to balance the need to make a phone call           people with whom they come into contact.” ❈
          with the requirement that it be done safely.”
              Typical policies also call for common-sense             about the author
          measures, such as avoiding upsetting conversations          Award-winning journalist Phillip M. Perry is an
          that may disrupt driving and abstaining from calls          expert in business management. Contact him at
          during bad weather or other challenging driving con-        phil@pmperry.com.
          ditions. One caveat: Even the most carefully worded
          policy is not a foolproof way to avoid lawsuits.
              “Just the fact that you have policies in place does       LEARNMORE
          not assure you will not be brought into litigation,”
          said McCausland.                                              ALA Resources
              After all, the driver who causes an accident may          The following articles are available in the ALA Management
          simply have ignored your policies. Even so, being             Encyclopedia (ALAME), www.alanet.org/alame.
                                                                        • “Leasing Equipment For The Law Office”
          able to provide evidence of good policies can help
                                                                        • “Telecommuting: The Road To Sound Policy”
          you mount a stronger defense if tragedy occurs.
              “If the driver involved in an accident was in viola-      The following are accessible via ALA’s Legal Management
          tion of your established policies, you can make the           Resource Center, http://thesource.alanet.org.
                                                                        • “The Paperless Office: Implementing Efficient
          argument that the person was acting outside the
                                                                           Technologies” – Type keywords “cell phone costs”
          scope of his or her authority when the accident                  in the search engine
          occurred,” said McCausland. “That helps you argue             • “Lawyers and Their Toys: Playing with the Latest
          that your law firm should be dismissed from the                  Gadgets Can Be a Boon for Your Firm”– Type key-
                                                                           words “cell phone costs” in the search engine
          case altogether.”
              In the event your law firm does not succeed in            On the Web
          being dismissed from a suit, McCausland notes, the            •   “Controlling Wireless Costs,” by Steven S. Ross –
          fact that you instituted policies helps you communi-              www.processor.com/editorial/article.asp?article=
          cate that your law firm was trying to establish a safe            articles/P2728/30p28/30p28.asp&guid
                                                                        •   “Keeping Cell Phone Costs Under Control,” by
          environment for everyone. That can help you obviate
                                                                            Bob Chuvala – http://findarticles.com/p/articles/
          a finding of negligence, and it can reduce or elimi-              mi_go1587/is_200202/ai_n6728761
          nate costly judgments.
                                                                        On the Shelf
          SAFETY FIRST                                                  The following titles are available for purchase or
                                                                        download through many online retailers, including
          While cell phones help your lawyers communicate
                                                                        www.amazon.com.
          efficiently, they also increase the stakes in the litiga-     • Telecommunications Cost Management, by Brian
          tion sweepstakes. The secret to keeping your firm                DiMarsico, Thomas Phelps IV and William A. Yarberry Jr.
          safe is to heighten your awareness of cell phone

50   LEGAL MANAGEMENT   NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006

				
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