Our firm charges the same hourly rate for all attorneys on defense files. Our approach on that is a little different because of our one lawyer handling the file philosophy. The only typical additional charges are advanced expenses [such as court costs], long distance phone charges and non-routine computerized research [where previously authorized]. Unlike other firms, postage, faxing, mileage, and similar charges have traditionally been overhead to us. You will not see charges for copying, vehicle mileage and the like on the bottom of our bills.
We cover the entire state for our clients and in fact do quite a bit of work out of our home county. It is less often that we see clients wanting us to do litigation work in Northeast Ohio [Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown] both because of coverage by other firms and frankly, the practice of law up there can be a little different. We usually have a smaller number of pendings in Cincinnati and Toledo, but again, it is a less frequent request by our existing clients. The rest of the state we cover. We have pending cases basically all over from about the Ohio Turnpike line down to the Ohio River. We cover all state and federal courts and of course, if a client wants us to handle a case somewhere else, we are happy to discuss it.
Normally new files are assigned based upon both caseload and experience, absent specific request. Once assigned, the firm’s intention is that the file will stay with the handling attorney to settlement or trial. We do not have attorneys “working up” files that are then turned over to a more senior lawyer for significant events, or trials. Some effort must necessarily be made to allow younger associates to handle less serious matters, for obvious reasons, however we do not let associates “spin wheels” at client expense. Such files are regularly monitored by more senior attorneys to determine proper handling, at firm expense, not the client’s. Our firm does not charge clients for firm conferences, for any of the lawyers involved, whether that conference be in furtherance of the client’s business or as part our internal monitoring of files.
You can expect our attorneys to have the legal knowledge sufficient to handle customary areas of civil litigation without basic research. More unusual or specialized matters, and preparation of specific briefs and motions demand sufficient research to represent the client/insured competently. Normally specialized research is undertaken only after prior authorization is obtained, though we believe most companies understand that where matters come up of urgent, critical importance, such as where an issue arises during trial for example, research cannot await authorization. This is the clear exception rather than the rule. We are not aware of a time in the past where our research activities have been questioned.
Preparation and file review falls in the same category. One of the reasons we assign one lawyer to a file is to avoid unnecessary review activity. Basic file review will occur prior to major events. Not necessarily every deposition requires extensive file review, but we do prepare before we depose a plaintiff or an expert. The same is true for court hearings [not routine pretrials except if specifically necessary], trials and appellate arguments. While there are times that we must have another attorney in the office cover activities on a file being handled by another, any charges for preparation will be handled as mentioned above. Basic file review in the event of the substitution is an internal expense for the firm. We substitute only when it cannot be avoided given matters out of our control, such as court docketing and noticed depositions. When it does occur, we make careful choices so that the less critical event is handled by the substitute attorney, while still making every effort to see that the event is handled as the client would expect.
The firm generally follows a “target evaluation” approach to all files in making decisions as to settlement, motion or trial. Unless not possible up front due to insufficient claim investigation [such as with “blind suits”] generally with the answer we outline in our initial report what we believe are the minimum steps to get the file to a decision point. Otherwise, we typically engage in some initial discovery or recommend claim department investigation that will allow further recommendations to reach the target evaluation point. We recognize that there are depositions and other activity that are not necessary unless a case is going to be tried and our goal is to see that type of work take place only after the target evaluation has been made or settlement efforts fail. If alternative dispute mechanisms, such as mediation, are appropriate, we welcome their use.
We generally operate on a thirty day diary for file activity, as justified. That is, we try to see that activities take place, and further recommendations are made, such that every thirty days, the company is seeing something happen to bring the file to a decision point. If this type of handling is not warranted given a particular file, we will recommend a longer diary in our reports. In no way do we prepare reports for the purpose of documenting non-activity [a report that there is nothing to report] but rather, where the file is active, or goal is to keep it moving each month. We will recommend a specific deposition, for example, and our goal would be to receive authorization within thirty days, so that in the following thirty days, it can be scheduled and completed. Of course this is not always possible or justified, but we use this method to avoid file stagnation as appropriate.
Though small, our firm is very advanced technologically. One of our firm members builds and maintains all the firm computers and runs the firm’s network, which allows us to keep up to date with electronic advances. We can handle files in a paperless manner, including initial receipt of claim file or similar documentation in .tif or .pdf format. We use email extensively within the bounds of confidentiality and security, as applicable. We are fully equipped to use electronic presentation equipment in the courtroom, if the nature of the file so justifies.
Billing is handled as the client requests to every extent possible. The size of our firm does not permit extensive advancement of file expenses, but we can and do advance routine court costs and similar matters. We prefer billing monthly or quarterly to allow for more smooth cash flow, but we can and do accommodate many varying instructions on submitting invoices. We are experienced in several types of electronic billing.
We invite your comments on our routine handling procedures or as you would otherwise prefer.