Cost-conscious clients demand that their litigation firms prepare and yes adhere to budgets, implement Legal Process Management (“LPM”) systems, and generally be more intentional in developing an efficient litigation plan. A basic part of that process is creating a litigation budget. In the old days you might get away with giving a ball park, seat of the pants, life of litigation estimate, all the while knowing it was probably low, because after all you did not want to scare the client. Those days are gone. Clients are insisting upon thoughtful, realistic, task based, process driven legal budgets
While hardly revolutionary, a specially designed Excel spreadsheet can be a very useful tool for creating detailed task based budgets, enabling you to easily see the results of changed assumptions on the bottom line. If you traditionally bill by the hour, but are asked to quote a fixed fee, an Excel spreadsheet budget template is also a useful tool to arrive at a price for which you can reasonably do the work.
Below is an image of one of the templates I use for preparing hourly rate litigation fee budgets (Click on the image to download a working copy):
In the template, we used the ABA Litigation Task Based Billing Codes. You input the names and rates of the timekeepers, and then fill out the budget using hours per timekeeper, per task. It automatically adjusts the totals as you change the numbers. Of course, you need to have the experience to reasonably estimate the time it will take to complete each task. Then, if your client agrees to the budget, you need to actively manage the case to stay close to the estimates. That is not always possible, but is more likely to happen if you are intentional in your planning and management of the litigation.
If you are already using the ABA Task Based Billing Codes, it can be a useful exercise to go back and do a post mortem on some concluded matters to get a feel for what it is costing your clients for you to litigate their cases. Savvy clients are doing just that analysis and comparing you to other firms. While you are doing this review, look for inefficiencies that could be improved upon in your next case to make you more efficient
Detailed upfront planning is the key to litigating more efficiently. We hope the budget template is helpful to you and your clients in developing accurate task based budgets that can then be effective management tools as the litigation progresses.