While there is the occasional, isolated case of an attorney admitting his or her firm is padding bills, such direct proof is rare. Without direct proof, you are left with circumstantial evidence from which you must draw your own conclusions. Some things you want to find out BEFORE you hire a patent attorney are:
1) What is the smallest increment of time the patent attorney bills? A tenth of an hour is okay. A quarter hour is not.
2) Does your patent attorney ever bill for two projects at the same time. For instance, if the attorney is billing a client for flight time to a deposition, will he or she bill another client for work done for that client during the flight?
3) Does your patent attorney bill for work done previously? If the law firm created a similar contract for another client, are you billed only for the new work done to the template?
4) Are any attorneys in the firm required to bill 2000 hours or more per year? With administrative duties, breaks, continuing legal education obligations, firm meetings, marketing and introductory client meetings, such billing minimums practically require bill padding.
5) Are you charged for any aspect of the billing procedure or disputes/questions about bills? You should not be billed for asking questions about your bills. If your patent attorney has to argue about your bills on his own time, you are likely to get a more comprehensible invoice.
6) Does your patent attorney itemize every item on your bill? While you likely do not a detailed itemization for flat fee projects, hourly projects should be exhaustively detailed.
7) Does the firm make sure your work is done by the lowest billing attorney on the project capable of doing the work (or at least bill at that rate for the work)? This would only apply to projects utilizing multiple attorneys. It is typically unwise and not cost effective to get a low cost associate involved for a few hours just to reduce the bill.
Does your patent attorney offer alternative billing arrangements? Alternative fee arrangements such as flat fee, value billing and success billing are all options worth investigating for the right project.
Tomorrow. How to avoid bill padding.