What is the “fair” cost of scanning for a firm to bill to a client?

This was a question recently debated online and there were various responses, but which emanated from this citation and these questions:

Per ABA Opinion 93-379, “A lawyer may not charge a client for overhead expenses….

[but] may recoup expenses …, so long as the charge reasonably reflects the lawyer’s actual cost for the services rendered.” What is the actual cost of scanning? If billing rates factor in the “overhead” cost of support staff (i.e. – labor), then what’s left? With scanning, there is no paper cost. Scanning actually reduces a firm’s overhead by reducing needed storage space. While large scale scanning of documents is a separate issue, should firms charge for “routine scanning” that replaces a traditional, paper filing system?

In reviewing all of the ensuing 8 comments 5 (62.5%) came out against charging for soft costs and 3 (37.5%) came out for it albeit in a different method – which is a very similar breakdown to the percentage of firms charging for scans today.

I think there are really two arguments going on:  1. Should firms charge for soft costs and 2.  What is a fair cost of scanning? I also think you have to consider the contributor’s perspective  – is that perspective business development or firm profitability?

Let me address the 2nd point first. Looked at strictly from a business development angle – I would say don’t charge.  It is always easier to give in on a charge than defend it. I don’t necessarily agree with this strategy but can understand it.

On the firm profitability front – why wouldn’t you charge for it? There is a cost to it, it is a function of the matter (you wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for that matter) and the process (scanning) replaces technology that you charged for in the past (facsimile and overnight shipping) at a fraction of their cost.

It all comes back to the fact that clients will pay for reasonable, defensible, justifiable expenses generated by their cases. If you look at the market, example after example illustrates this fact—and this includes scanning.  This additional revenue may even save a job or two.