In a recent opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia rejected attorneys’ good faith attempts to itemize individual tasks within previously submitted block billed entries. See Lamonaca v. Tread Corporation, No. 14-CV-00249, 2016 WL 269991 (W.D. Va. Jan. 21, 2016). Although the attorneys attempted to correct the deficiencies to the best of their ability, the amended entries were “little more than guesses” and therefore, could not accurately represent the time spent on each discrete task. The court ultimately reduced the fee award “to account for this inadequate documentation.”
Block billing is a common billing practice among attorneys and other legal professionals. Block billing occurs when several, discrete tasks are recorded under one time unit, rather than itemizing the time spent on each separate task. It is disfavored by courts and typically prohibited by clients in outside counsel billing guidelines because it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the work performed and fees incurred are reasonable. Although most forms of outside counsel billing guidelines prohibit attorneys from submitting invoices that are block billed, clients typically allow their attorneys to correct such entries without penalty. However, as noted above, the court in this case took the adverse action and refused to award 100% of the amended entries.
It is a lawyer’s responsibility to maintain contemporaneous time records, detailing the time spent on each task throughout the day. Contemporaneous time records are not sufficient if the daily entries are recorded in a block billed format. Without proper contemporaneous time records, the billing entries must be reconstructed from memory and the time spent on each task could be based on nothing more than a mere guess. This practice could ultimately lead to overbilling. Therefore, it is imperative that billing records are accurately documented in contemporaneous time records that detail each task performed. Without such proper billing records, a reduction in legal fees is warranted to account for potential over-billing.