The Bar does not have a list of standard charges or maximums, for that matter. Cost recovery guidance is contained in an ABA Formal Opinion. The Florida Bar has accepted the ABA Formal Opinion covering cost recovery.   

You must have a basis for the costs charged to a client and you cannot turn cost recovery into a profit center. The basis for a “hard cost,” that which is invoiced to the firm by an outside vendor, is easy. The basis is the invoice without mark-up. Internal “soft costs,” such as copying done in-house, require some calculations to arrive at the per copy basis.

In-house copy charges are a soft cost. You will have to establish a “basis” for the per page price. Basis is calculated based on annual number of pages copied on your copier. You might obtain that figure from the copier's page counter or by using tracking systems like Equitrac.

Calculate a per page cost of the annual lease for the machine (for example: $2,500.00 annual lease payment divided by 50,000 copies made = $0.05/page.) Follow the same process for other items that contribute to the cost of a copy. For example, what’s the per page cost of the annual maintenance contract. What is the per page cost of the annual amount of toner and paper used? How long does it take to copy a page, who copies it and what is the labor cost? Add all those per page factors, and that’s the “basis.”

Then, once you get the figure, you may still choose to lower it for customer satisfaction reasons. You’ll at least see how 30 cents stacks up, and whether can you justify it if ever challenged.

Then, with basis and detailed tracking of copies per client, you can bill these costs.

Remember, you aren’t allowed to make a profit on cost recovery.

You also CANNOT decide on a “standard administrative fee” uniformly charged to all matters to cover soft costs. That will get the firm in trouble.

For a large job, it may be simpler to treat the copy job as a "hard" cost. Take the files to a print shop to be copied, and then bill the client the invoiced amount, backed by the actual invoice.

Regarding phone calls, maintaining a call log which each file which specifies the date, time and length of call, and the staff member involved with the call can be used to come up with a formula for billing the client as well.

I know that the process can be laborious, but compared to the alternative, it just makes sense.

I am also attaching information on several Florida, ABA and other opinions on this and similar matters for your own edification.

Subject: Fees and Costs

Topic: Costs

Subtopic: Administrative Charge

The Florida Bar v. Carlon, 820 So.2d 891 (Fla. 2002), Nos. SC95539 & SC00-1344. Supreme Court found that Attorney charged excessive fee in assisting client in obtaining Arizona property after dissolution. The court upheld the referee's findings of fact, including that the $500.00 administrative charge for opening the file was improper. (The Attorney also never found an Arizona Attorney to handle the matter, although he charged client over $3,000.00 for looking in Martindale-Hubbell and writing identical letters to twelve (12) attorneys, none of whom took the case). Court consolidated two (2) excessive fee cases. 91 day suspension.

Florida Bar v. Dorta, Case No. SC01-1196. Consent judgment for 30 day suspension for Attorney who charged $250.00 administrative fee for opening file, faxing, long distance, courier charges without any relationship to costs actually incurred. Attorney also charged 5% to recover PIP benefits as part of contingent fee contract in Personal Injury cases. (See Report of Referee)

Florida Bar Staff Opinion 17883 (November 18, 1994). Improper to charge $50.00 administrative charge to cover phone calls, postage, faxing, because not based on actual costs of services provided. Can charge flat charge for specific files if based on actual costs of services provided and reasonable apportionment of directly related overhead if client consents after full disclosure.


Florida Bar Staff Opinion 19432 (October 17, 1996). Improper to determine average figure for costs such as phone and fax charged to all clients, because some clients will pay for costs of other clients. Must itemize costs charged to clients.


Florida Bar Staff Opinion 22653. Improper to prorate monthly Westlaw charge among their clients, because client cannot consent to cost average without knowing actual amounts charged to each client and would be excessive for one client to pay other client's charges, as would likely happen with pro-rated charges.

ABA Formal Opinion 93-379: Attorney charging hourly rate may not bill same time to more than one client, or charge client full amount for using same work product that attorney produced for earlier client, unless client agrees. Attorney may not charge client for more than actual cost of in-house services, unless client agrees.

Maryland Ethics Opinion 92-19, 7 LAW.MAN. 405. Attorney may use services of legal research company if client is NOT billed amount greater than cost incurred by attorney; client should (but not must) be informed that company's services will be used. ABA Formal Opinion 93-379. 4-1.5(e), 4-1.4, 4-1.5(a-c)

Connecticut Ethics Opinion 03-08 (September 22, 2003). Lawyer may not charge client cost of using a third party provider to obtain and copy medical records of client in a personal injury case because such services normally were the duties of lawyer’s support staff and are considered overhead expenses that should not be billed to client.

Connecticut Ethics Opinion 94-24. Regardless of client consent, improper to charge administrative expense to each file, where not related to specific cost.

Nassau County Ethics Opinion 94-25. A lawyer wanted to charge his clients a flat monthly fee for expenses. NY DR 5-103(B)(1) allows an attorney to advance expenses for litigation as long as the client remains ultimately liable for the expenses. If the flat charge does not adequately reimburse the attorney for the expenses, then it violates NY DR 5-103(B) because the client is not ultimately responsible for the expenses. If the monthly charge is too high, it might be an "excessive fee" in violation of NY DR 2-106(A). An attorney is allowed to earn some profit in the charges for services such as photocopying and telephone calls, but the profit has to be reasonable and the client must give his or her informed consent. Whether a flat charge is reason able is a fact question which must be answered on a case-by-case basis. The attorney cannot continue charging the flat monthly rate if the case becomes dormant.

Nassau County Bar Ethics Opinion 06-02 (June 28, 2006). Law firm may not charge a flat fee to every client at conclusion of the client's matter to store the client's file. It is improper to bill clients for storing information that is required by ethics rules or law. The law firm may charge a reasonable amount or the actual storage cost for storing documents that the lawyer is not required to keep. Lawyers may charge a reasonable amount or the actual cost for retrieving and copying materials for the client as long as the original charge for representation did not cover that.