GETTING CREDIT FOR ORIGINATING A MATTERby Joel A. Rose
Who Should Serve as Billing Partner for a New Matter from an Existing Client?
This article responds to an inquiry from a partner in a law firm who felt she was treated unfairly because she deserved to be designated Billing Partner for a new client matter she originated from a firm client that was originated by another partner. This was an especially important issue for this partner because the designation “Billing Attorney” is an important criterion in her firm’s compensation system.
The partner who receives the call from a new client and who will perform or supervise the performance of the work on that file may be the most appropriate person to serve as the Billing Partner. However, the decision may not be as clear-cut when a firm has a team-oriented approach to business development and client service efforts.
Typically, an attorney who “gets the call” on a new matter from an existing client should, as a courtesy, confer with the partner who has served as Billing Partner before opening the matter. If the partner who has primarily served as Billing Partner is continuing to fulfill the Billing Partner’s responsibilities, he or she should usually be the Billing Partner for the new matter, absent any circumstances which might dictate otherwise.
“Getting the call,” by itself, does not mean that the partner should be the Billing Partner on the new matter. It may be that the historical Billing Partner has done an outstanding job of cross-selling (is continuing to fulfill Billing Partner responsibilities including those for the new matter), and should continue to be the Billing Partner for the new matter.
On the other hand, because a partner is the Billing Partner on the first matter ever opened, does not necessarily mean that he or she should be the Billing Partner on all subsequent matters opened. Such would be the case if the Billing Partner has not been performing the functions expected to be performed by the Billing Partner and has had no role in developing the new matter. By way of illustration, Partner A receives a call from a mid-level manager to perform a small project for a client. Partner A performs the work, closes the file and has no further contact with the client nor with the client’s decision makers. Later, after independent marketing efforts by Partner B to other decision makers in the organization, client retains the firm to perform a major project. Partner A has had no role, or even knowledge, that the marketing effort has taken place. In fact, the client does not even know that Partner A had done a project previously. Partner A should not reasonably expect to be the Billing Partner on the new matter.
Obviously, no single rule will dictate the answer to this question in every instance. Rather, billing responsibility should be considered and determined on a case-by-case basis. If more than one attorney has assisted in the origination of the new client or client matter, or is actively involved in providing services to that client, the partners should determine among themselves who will have the responsibility of serving as Billing Partner for the client and matter. If the partners are unable to make this determination, after good faith efforts to do so, the Billing Partner responsibility will be determined by the firm’s Managing Partner or Management Committee. In any event, all partners who significantly assisted in the origination of the new client or client matter should be listed as “Originating Partner” on the firm’s New Client/New Client Matter Intake form.
In making the determination regarding who should serve as Billing Partner, all of the partners who participated in originating the new client or matter (and if necessary, the Managing Partner/Management Committee) should consider the following factors:
Guidelines for Transferring Billing Responsibilities
A more difficult and sensitive situation may occur when circumstances arise when it will be appropriate and/or necessary to transfer billing responsibility from one partner to another. These circumstances include, but are not limited to the following:
Who should serve as Billing Partner is not always a clear or “black or white” determination. It is hoped
that the partners will keep the best interests of the firm and the spirit of teamwork and support of each
other at the forefront in making these decisions.
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