One of my friends (who also happens to be a Westlaw Rep) mentioned that she had some clients that were confused when I discussed “Cost Recovery” in the past:

They are on flat rates, and are small 3 or 4 atty firms….so they were relieved to learn that oddly enough, usage has nothing to do with their pricing and they can use the fire out of it without raising their bill. I was relieved to see that you explained that in the update – thank you!. In my world, 100% of my customers have flat fee subscriptions, and they read your column too. It provided me a wonderful opportunity to explain how their plan works, but the situation was eye opening to me. 

First of all, I’m thrilled that her clients are reading my blog (or is she just saying that to kiss-up??… oh well, either way is great!) Second, I should warn anyone that reads this blog that we have a terrible slant toward how things are done in BigLaw. Toby’s not as bad at is as I am… but, it’s kind of what we know.

I thought that I’d put together a short little presentation that describes the basics of cost recovery (at least in some big firms.) I created this in PowerPoint, then converted it to video using The conversion caused a few timing issues, but for a freebie… I’m not complaining! (okay… I’m now complaining. Unfortunately, PowerShow’s presentation is an “auto start” “auto repeat” process that is apparently impossible to turn off, so I’ve embedded the presentation from authorSTREAM instead.)  If for some reason you can’t see this because your IT department seems to think that “embedded video” = “porn” … then you can download the presentation by clicking here. Again, it is a very, very basic overview of how firms recover the cost of Westlaw or LexisNexis searches, but sometimes basic is what we need.

  • Here's the easiest concept of all to follow: don't do it! Set your rates high enough to cover all of your firm's reasonable overhead. Clients hate to be nickled and dimed.

    You can find a more detailed explanation of my views on legal research cost recovery at

  • Lisa,

    That's an idea that has been tested in the past, yet almost no firms, that I know of, stayed with that process.

    Law Technology News put out a report that said that "Law Firm Cost Recovery is Here to Stay" where they discussed this, and said that no one was ready to do it. We've discussed it here as well.

    Clients hate to be nickeled and dimed, but they hate increasing rates more.

    It's probably something that 'needs' to happen… but right now, it doesn't seem that either the firms or the clients are ready to trade increased fee rates for no cost recovery.

  • Greg, the LTN story discusses a survey of 49 firms, the smallest of which was a 50-lawyer firm. Among solos and small firms, a survey conducted in 2008 revealed that only 50% sought to recover legal research costs from their clients (see

    Perhaps BigLaw clients are resisting further increases in rates to cover legal research expenses because BigLaw rates are already inflated enough. I suggest that BigLaw partners should bear the brunt of these costs by reducing their draws.

    Nah, that'll never happen.

  • Sully

    I work with many law firm IT departments so may I suggest an alternative point of view on why some firm IT departments block embedded video? Costs. I used to find it hard to believe, but many law firms are way undersized in their internet bandwidth. Firm leaders have used to commoditization of internet services to save money instead of increasing bandwidth. Several years ago T1 internet service was in the $2000/mo range. Now for $2000/mo you can get 100 mb service in many places. (At least in metro areas that have fibre providers, rural areas are still out of luck.) But instead of increasing speeds to meet the new demands telecomm budgets are reduced. While I have run across a few IT folks who think they are the morality police, most don't have the time to block all video and review exception requests one by one.