Got my “eLegal” email newsletter from the Arizona State Bar Association today. Their “Eye on Ethics” feature caught my eye. The question presented is:
Is block-billing unethical?
The practice of block-billing, as defined in the blurb, is:
Lumping together multiple tasks without specifying how much time was spent on individual or discrete activities.
The problem with block billing is the it obscures the time spent on actual tasks, and may overstate the actual time spent. Given this, reasonableness of a fee may be difficult to determine.
Like most things in legal ethics, it amounts to acting reasonably. Rule 1.5 sets out the factors to consider when evaluating whether a legal fee is reasonable. And like most business disputes and ethical issues, I believe it really boils down to expectation management. When you set your fees at the conception of representation, were the expectations clear. If they are clear and reasonable, and the amount of the bill is justifiable outside the four-corners of the bill, then I can see a strong argument that the fee is not unreasonable or unethical, and given the context the block-bill is also not.
That said, I believe that clarity at every level is paramount. Given the ambiguity, and case law discourages the practice, it seems that the only reason for block-billing in most cases is laziness.
What do you think? Do you block-bill in your law practice?