Sept. 1, 2021 – The Assigned Counsel Division (ACD) of the Office of the State Public Defender (SPD) provides an opportunity for private bar attorneys to take on overflow and conflict public defender cases at a rate of $70 per hour.
The ACD oversees more than 1,000 private lawyers who partner with their division, to provide indigent defense.
For those who take on public defender cases, common mistakes can often delay getting paid. In this video, Christopher C. Shattuck, State Bar of Wisconsin law practice assistance manager, and Kathleen Pakes, ACD director, discuss efficient billing strategies for ACD cases.
Tips on Billing Your SPD Cases
There are several steps that must be completed in order to submit an invoice for payment. The ACD audits every invoice the SPD receives.
The ACD offers several resources on their website to help attorneys navigate the expense and billing approval process. Be sure to utilize these resources and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Here are a few tips to avoid common billing errors and get paid more quickly.
Tip 1: Review Your Invoice to Avoid Common Clerical Errors
It may sound simple enough, but be sure to accurately report your time and double-check invoices before submission.
Christopher C. Shattuck, Univ. of La Verne College of Law 2009, M.B.A. U.W.-Oshkosh 2015, is manager of Practice411™, the State Bar’s law practice assistance program. If you have questions about the business aspects of your practice, call (800) 957-4670.
To avoid simple errors, “attorneys should be reviewing these invoices before submitting them,” Pakes said.
Common reasons invoices are sent back for correction include failing to provide sufficient information on the tasks completed, requesting incorrect mileage reimbursement, entering incorrect court dates, and inadvertently transposing decimals (such as billing 5.0 hours instead of 0.5 hours).
When the ACD believes an overbilling has occurred based upon the time range they expect an activity to take, the ACD must send it back to the attorney for clarification.
“Sometimes there is a reason for the entry,” Pakes said, that was not clear in the initial invoice.
An attorney’s clarification sheds additional light on why the typical task took longer to complete. But if it was an error, the attorney must submit a corrected invoice into the system again.
“All of that takes time and slows up the payment processing,” Pakes said.
Tip 2: Keep Contemporaneous Records
Attorneys are required to maintain contemporaneous time records and use those records to support billing invoices. Failing to maintain the appropriate records may result in nonpayment or removal from SPD certification lists.1
The requirement helps attorneys who may not be in the habit of keeping contemporaneous time records become better billers, Pakes said.
The requirement for maintaining contemporaneous time records also benefits attorneys in situations where, after their cases have concluded, clients have questions about the activities that were completed during their cases.
“It is in the best interests of the attorneys and ACD to have that track record, in order to show that a lawyers was actively working on cases along the way,” Pakes said, such as during an appeal.
Taking on SPD Cases: How to Obtain Certification
The need for ACD counsel continues to be well-documented, and attorneys interested in reducing the access to justice gap are strongly encouraged to apply.
Attorneys must be certified by the SPD before they can receive case appointments. In order to obtain certification, attorneys must complete and submit a certification application to the ACD for the level they seek, such as general, misdemeanors, felonies, and appellate certifications.
Information about obtaining certification via the ACD is available on the Wisconsin State Public Defenders website. According to the website:
Pursuant to Wisconsin Administrative Code PD 1, there are several levels of trial and appellate certification. Certification levels are based on the case type and/or the need for specialized training. Attorneys who have not been previously certified will be provisionally certified for one year.
Attorneys may be certified only in those counties in which they reside or maintain their principal office per PD 1.035(3)(a). However, in counties where there is a shortage of attorneys, attorneys residing or maintaining their principal office in an adjacent county may also be certified in the shortage county per PD 1.035(3)(b).
To remain certified, attorneys must abide by performance standards4 and published billing guidelines.
Tip 3: Seek Prior Approval for Expense Authorizations
In many cases, an attorney might need to hire an expert, such as an accident reconstructionist, obtain transcripts or medical records, and incur other costs that are necessary for the representation.
In such instances, “we require them to submit a request for prior approval for funding,” Pakes said.
The ACD is taxpayer-funded and operates on a fixed budget, and therefore requires prior approval for:
any expense expected to be $100 or more;
all expenses for transcripts and medical records;
legal research expenses more than $20; and
all expenses for expert and investigator services.2
“We try to honor them as much as we can,” Pakes said, “but they need to stay within the budgetary restraints we have approved.”
The ACD encourages attorneys to connect with the ACD or their local SPD when looking for recommendations regarding experts. It is important to work with experts to stay within original estimates, and to ensure invoices from experts comply with ACD expense reimbursement requirements.3
It is also important for attorneys to remind experts of the nature of the representation, because many experts have a private pay fee schedule and a lower pay fee schedule for government cases.
Conclusion: Where to Find Out More
The ACD encourages attorneys to timely submit invoices when their cases are completed. The sooner the invoices are submitted, the quicker they are placed into the reviewing pipeline.
Attorneys are encouraged to get into the habit of immediately completing their administrative billing case closing responsibilities, rather than waiting and accumulating closed case files.
For more information, visit the ACD website.
Get Tips for Efficient Billing Methods at Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference
Learn more efficient billing methods and best practices for law firm management at the 2021 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference (WSSFC), Oct. 28-30.
At WSSFC, the Practice Management track offers several CLE sessions that will give you tips and methods for a more productive and profitable office.
For more information, see the schedule on the 2021 WSSFC website and reserve your spot via WisBar.org’s Marketplace.
Looking for Software to Assist Your Billing Process?
Through your State Bar membership, you have access to discounts on case management, payroll, and other practice management software. For more information, visit the Member Benefits page on WisBar.org.
Have questions about managing your practice? Check out Practice411, the State Bar’s law office management assistance program.
1 See Wisconsin Administrative Code PD 1.03(5)(e)&(f).
2 See Case Expense Reimbursement.
3 See Expert and Investigator Services.
4 See Minimum Attorney Performance Standards for Appointed Private Bar Counsel.