Barristers, Beware of the ‘Desktop Discounting’ Trap

David Kim is a Barrister at Melbourne-based Owen Dixon Chambers and joined forces with Thomson Reuters to help shape the new Westlaw. Before David opted to help transform the legal knowledge ecosystem as a design program partner, legal research was a drain on his time. He believed, and still does, that Barristers commonly apply discounts to their client fees – sometimes unwittingly – when conducting legal research; something that he considers those using the new Westlaw can avoid.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and ask ourselves: what does free legal research have to do with the practice of, what David coined, ‘desktop discounting’?

To use Barristers like David or sole practitioners as an example, zero-cost legal research comes as a result of having to spend significant hours of time behind a desk searching for case law information and precedents. Legal professionals who do this frequently do not charge their clients for all the hours spent researching given various considerations, such as: the vexed issue of the extent to which lawyers can charge for legal research; to avoid having uncomfortable discussions with their clients, including to stave off allegations, whether or not justified, that the costs are not fair and reasonable; and to avoid being priced out of the market.

“Depending on the circumstance, there are times when I don’t charge for legal research, or I don’t charge for all the time that I have spent. It might be because I don’t consider the task as one that I should charge the client for, or I may have provided a cap on my fees for a particular task and I’ve underestimated the time it was going to take me. In situations like that, it’s very important to me that I’m able to undertake legal research as efficiently as possible. That’s why I and others like me can get frustrated or annoyed with traditional legal research tools that may be cumbersome to use or take time to master,” explained David.

It’s easy to see why desktop discounting is not ideal for the Barrister involved or their client. Legal research is a necessary tool. However, it should not be something that lawyers dread or a time-consuming exercise which takes lawyers away from other critical services they provide to clients, such as dealing with a client’s problem in a tailored and strategic manner.

As David puts it: “In litigation, a key focus in building your client’s case should be to convey the case in a clear and persuasive way to the decision-maker, not being bogged down by cumbersome research tools or being stuck in a research rabbit hole chasing crumbs of correct information across the Internet.”

Tips to avoid desktop discounting

Whether you are building your career at the Bar or are Senior Counsel, you may be guilty of desktop discounting. Here are tactics to make better use of your client’s fees (and your time):

Respect the clock and bill accordingly:

It is common for Barristers and sole practitioners to invoice their clients upfront, even though the original quote is subject to change due to changing circumstances of a case or unforeseen hours worked. While it is vital to compete with your services among your peers, it’s important to be realistic. If you are factoring legal research hours into your pricing, respect your time and bill accordingly.

That said, if legal research is exceeding your estimated time, maybe you can do better. Ask yourself whether you can reduce the number of hours spent behind the desk without compromising on the quality of your work. This brings us to our next point, on the common time-waster also known as ‘free research’.

Ditch free legal research:

From Austili to Google, there are a number of accessible databases out there that provide you with enough legal research results to get by. But dozens of searches later and these seemingly free research tools can add hours to your working week.

This is why paid legal research could solve your desktop discounting problems. Legal technology is now better than ever, with solutions such as the new Westlaw offering unparalleled research capabilities. As Barrister, David Kim put it, with the new Westlaw, everything you need is under one roof and in reach.

“Sometimes with legal research, you can do one search that requires you to do another search, or multiple searches. For me now, legal research is no longer a hindrance because the new Westlaw is intuitively responding to the way I think,” said David.

For a comprehensive take on the realm of possibilities, refer to our guide on choosing the best legal research solution for you.

Upskill in efficient searching:

For those of you who opt to invest in a legal research solution, it is worth getting to know all the product’s features.

For instance, you may be able to customise your legal research interface, so each search session is tailored to your typical needs. Not every case sits within the same subject matter area and there can be grey areas from time to time, so it goes without saying that you may need to occasionally expand your remit. Building more efficient search skills will enable you to flex according to your clients needs and, in some cases, enable you to take on more business.

Ready to raise the bar on your legal knowledge work? Refer to our article that shares six ways in which legal practitioners can improve their legal research.

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