Previously I have ranted about how billing task codes are not magic pixie dust. There seems to be a broad perception that task codes will solve pricing and legal project management problems for all practices. “If we only had task codes for [insert type of work], we would know how to price this.”

My general feeling is that A) the task codes were not designed to address this need. B) The use of task codes is highly inconsistent, so the data is poorly structured. And C) Even if the data was in good shape, it won’t provide magic pricing and budgets.

Recently I was ranting on this subject with a friend who works in the e-billing space. I was especially going off on how the task codes were not intended for solving the pricing problem. The e-billing person made an offhand comment about the current state of the use of task codes for their actual intended purpose. This got me thinking. So I checked the task code web site to better understand the actual intent of the development of task codes and the need for a standard set of them.

There was not much about intent, but here’s what I found:

In the mid-1990’s major US law departments and insurers wanted to better understand the services provided by outside counsel. 

As part of this effort, it was decided that electronic invoice time entries should be task-based and aggregated by type of work performed, resulting in the possibility that multiple time entries could result from the services performed in a single day on a matter. 

What occurred to me is that the task codes have not even met the original purpose. My e-billing friend’s comment centered on the fact that clients use their own unique task codes and that lawyers need training in order to get effective use of them. And we know how often lawyers go to training. Rarely.

I read Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCGs) on a regular basis and keep an eye out for things like task codes and their use. Just last week I read one where they do not even use ‘L” codes. They have their own letter.

What I see is very inconsistent use of task codes by clients, compounded by inconsistent application of the codes by law firms. Result: Serious questions about whether task codes have even met their intended purpose.

Yet somehow task codes are poised to solve a problem they weren’t built to address.

Good luck with that.