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ABA Formal Opinion 93-379 on Billing Practices

The American Bar Associations Formal Opinion 93-379 addresses how attorneys bill for professional fees and other expenses. The opinion establishes some basic guidelines:

1. Time periods for billing may be rounded up to the nearest tenth or near quarter.

2. Overhead expenses cannot be billed to a client.

3. Services such as computer research, photocopying, and secretarial overtime can be billed to a client at actual cost.

4. Multiple clients should not be billed for the same hours.

5. Clients billed by the hour should receive receive an itemization of billable tasks rather than an invoice only listing a total dollar amount.

6. Recycled work product should not be billed to a new client.

7. If an agreement has been reached to bill a client a certain number of hours for a particular project, the client should not be billed for the full amount if it is performed more efficiently. "When that basis for billing the client has been agreed to, the economies associated with the result must inure to the benefit of the client, not give rise to an opportunity to bill a client phantom hours."

8. Disbursements such as reporter fees or travel expenses can be charged to a client.

9. Discounted rates received from third party providers should be passed along to a client.

10. For in-house services an attorney may charge, "the direct cost associated with the service (i.e., the actual cost of making a copy on the photocopy machine) plus a reasonable allocation of overhead expenses directly associated with the provision of the service (e.g., the salary of a photocopy machine operator)".

11. Additional sources of profits cannot be created beyond what is contained in the provision of legal services.

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