Everything is negotiable. Most law firms have flat rate contracts with LexisNexis and/or Westlaw. The databases also have transactional or hourly (more accurately: minutely) charging. For example, according to the March 2006 Westlaw Plan 1 Price Guide, to search the ALLSTATES database costs $ 13.86 a minute. Some firms charge their clients these per minute rates, even if they are paying for the service under a flat rate contract. If this is not done with the client’s knowledge, it can lead to a dispute, as this story in the National Law Journal reports:
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Consumer protection attorney Patricia Meyer filed a suit against New York’s Chadbourne & Parke on March 2 for allegedly overcharging J. Virgil Waggoner, a Texas businessman, by several thousands of dollars for computerized legal research. His bill was roughly $20,000 for the research, she said, but it should have been closer to $5,000. Waggoner v. Chadbourne & Parke, No. BC408693 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.).Meyer of San Diego’s Patricia Meyer & Associates said that many similar lawsuits are in the pipeline, noting that she has amassed evidence that shows at least a dozen other law firms are overcharging clients for legal research, but not telling them.
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“This appears to be more widespread than you would think,” Meyer said. “Basically what we’re finding is that certain law firms are using Westlaw and Lexis as profit centers, as compared to simply passing along their actual costs to their client….Quite candidly, what we’re finding is the clients really have no idea that this is going on.”