By Alan Dershowitz
Accountability, ethics and transparency may not be interchangeable, but neither do they stand independent of each other. Without transparency, accountability will be called into question; and without accountability, ethics lack standing because they cannot be verified.
I was reminded of this interdependence recently while perusing an article on billing and ethics complaints in Legal Ethics. The author accurately noted that nothing creates more distrust or angst among unhappy clients than a bill they believe is too high or…even worse…completely unreasonable.
I’ve previously said that, as lawyers (and I presume this extends to other hourly professionals), we’ve been well-schooled in our practice, but not so in the business side of law. In fact, many people – some practitioners among them – view billing for time worked as disdainful. And, while someone likely will consider any bill too high, no matter how reasonable, we can do something to keep those bills from becoming a divide between attorney and client.
I concur with the article premise that, when countering billing questions, the best defense is solid documentation. To paraphrase an often-repeated real estate adage: Document. Document. Document.
The importance of detailed time records was evident in the two “unreasonable billing” cases cited: one in which time entries were recreated from “memory and notes,” while the second involved detailed time records backed by contemporaneous documentation. The court declined to rule against the defendant in the latter, while the outcome of the first case remains in doubt.
Among the recommendations for preparing entries that can withstand scrutiny was to record time daily, and in a consistent manner. In my opinion, that is at the crux of transparency, accountability, and – ultimately – ethics. And, it’s where a tool that provides real-time accounting for work being performed becomes valuable.
With transparency comes accountability, and with accountability comes ethics. A good balance between information and accountability can help strengthen attorney-client relationships by building trust and reinforcing ethics. As I see it, those are the cornerstones upon which our profession rests.
Click here to read the article from Legal Ethics.