Lawyer's fees for a week far away from home
November 5, 2013 4:53 PM   Subscribe

What would be a realistic and reasonable bill to expect from a US attorney whom you asked to travel long haul (think China) to work with a client for a week? What about a UK solicitor travelling to Australia? Assume when they get there they will put in a 35 hour week. On the travel expenses front, would business class be typically expected when travelling long haul? I know there'll be a range, but would be interested to hear estimates for mid-size and large firms.
posted by pines to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was an attorney and I traveled, my time was billed as follows: 0 travel time; 0 recreation or "off duty" time; 100% time spent on work directly on the project. I doubt that this has changed in any way.

Partners in the firm I currently work with (a good sized international firm) are in the range of $650 to $850 per hour. Partners whose rate is higher than that will generally offer discounts.

Client would pay for out of pocket costs, including airfare (but not business or first class -- upgrades are up to the lawyer personally or the law firm, but not passed on to the client), meals, hotel.

IANALnow, IAcertainlyNYL :-)
posted by janey47 at 5:32 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: All my US lawyer friends who have done international business travel went business class. I'm not sure how the fee structure was but I imagine it was the same as other travel. Hourly rate for all travel time plus hours actually worked.

They all work for pretty big name firms, but then again those are the type of firms that generally specialize in the areas of law requiring international travel. You might be able to negotiate a better deal with a boutique firm.
posted by whoaali at 5:39 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: Hi, I'm a former large firm lawyer and current in-house counsel managing outside lawyers representing my employer.

The answer to your question depends on the fee agreement. In the absence of agreement in advance, the lawyer can theoretically charge you for cost of travel (flight, meals, lodging, &c), time traveling (so long as the lawyer is not engaged in work for another client while sitting on the plane), and time actually spent working on location. Big firm lawyers will generally expect to fly business class on international trips--some clients will pay and some won't.

There are two important caveats, however. First, many big firm lawyers elect not to bill for travel time, because clients hate that. Second, many firms will negotiate fees for particular projects that deviate from the standard billable hour plus costs model. I routinely negotiate fixed fees or capped fee arrangements with our outside counsel, we generally do not pay for travel time, and we have a bunch of limits on other kinds of costs that can be billed to us.

Billing rates vary pretty widely from practice to practice and from city to city, but generally at large firms associates will be billed at $300 to $600 per hour and partners from $600 to as much as they can get away with. Many firms have staff attorneys or senior counsel, and their rates are all over the place.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:40 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: I called my lawyer (hi dad!) to ask for you. He has worked as a partner at NYC's swankiest firm, at a boutique NYC firm, and at a swanky NJ firm.

He reports his billing has always been airfare, air travel and airport transfer time, plus working hours on the ground (so your 35 hours), plus hotels, meals and transport on the ground (car rental or taxis.) Super swanky NYC firm flies all lawyers first class always; other firms will do business or coach. The hourly rate depends on the individual lawyers involved but janey47's numbers seem like sound back-of-the-envelope estimates. On client trips he's stayed at the Four Seasons and at Holiday Inns. It depends on the client and their budget sensitivity really.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: In my firm, which works in the Fifth Circuit and travels only within those states, we bill for travel time because that's time when we could otherwise be billing another client. For some clients, we bill travel time at a lesser rate, but that's pretty rare. Most clients are billed full rates for travel, due to the loss of business that travel causes.

On a related note, I was taught that you can't double bill for time, so that if I am flying to China for Client X I can bill X for my time, but if I work for Client Z while on the plane, I can bill A for that time and X for the time when I'm not working for X, but I can't bill X for the time when I was working for A and bill A for that time too.

And at a former firm, lawyers loved traveling to the west coast at the end of the month because they could bill for the time zone change (i.e. potentially up to 27 hours in a day) and bump up their monthly billables that way. Not that this answers your question in any way.

But everyone is right: it depends on your fee agreement. And we therefore couldn't possibly guess what the dollar amount would be, as that depends on the type of lawyer, her level at the firm, the type of firm, the nature of the fee agreement, and the expenses. But it sure won't be cheap.
posted by Capri at 8:08 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: Most big firms don't bill international travel time anymore, unless actually working on the plane, or it's so short a trip that the straight-through hours you will bill once arrived leave you in a hole. Business class at the client's expense, along with a car service transfers and a five star hotel, is the standard; coach tickets, a tourist hotel, or mass transit would not be expected. That said, ALL elements of international traveling billing and expenses should be clearly negotiated in advance.
posted by MattD at 5:41 AM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: On a related note - for my company, if our flight is over 6 hours, it is mandated that we fly business class, as there is no chance we can be functional human beings after a 6+ hour flight in economy. This is written into our contracts.

If there is a specific firm you are looking at, that may be something to ask. IANAL, but do travel internationally for a living.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, all of you. The FAQ says a post can be marked "best answer" if the OP either considered them to be the "right" answer or if they were answers that the asker found useful in some way.

There isn't a dud among the answers, they all give me something to look out for, consider, or simply chew on. So thanks again everyone who's posted and not forgetting DarlingBri's dad.
posted by pines at 3:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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