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Recycling Billable Hours
Posted in Litigation

I was recently asked whether it was okay to “recycle” billable hours from previous work done for previous clients. For example, if a lawyer does a legal research project for a client and it takes 21 billable hours and if a new client is faced with the same legal question, can the attorney just bill 21 hours to the second client for the work that is already done?

While it may seem unfair that the second client benefits from what the first client paid for, according to ABA Formal Opinion 93-379, an attorney cannot “recycle” those hours.

In that Opinion, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility stated, “A lawyer who is able to reuse old work product has not re-earned the hours previously billed and compensated when the work product was first generated. Rather than looking to profit from … the luck of being asked the identical question twice, 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 Opinion then goes on to say that billing for recycled work product can amount to an unreasonable, unethical fee under Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

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