Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

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Lawyering and the billable hour

I came across this post by The G.A.L. regarding the downside of the traditional billable hour that most firms use. While G.A.L. is quoting another blogger in his post, here is my favorite quote:

    Blind obsession with the billable hour not only destroys the relationship amongst attorneys and staff at a firm but inevitably between the firm and its clients.

I have wrestled with the best way to bill for various matters I have handled. As a rule, my firm foregoes billing on many items customarily passed on to clients by law firms. For example, we do not track and bill long distance phone charges, routine postage, copies, and mileage in our home county and a number of surrounding counties. Because I do not have a billable hour goal set for me, I find myself often rounding down the time I spend on a project rather than rounding up because my tendency is to think about my clients circumstances as much as my own.

I have contemplated using flat fees, and I have done so in some cases where the work involved is fairly predictable. I have also used flat fees in a family law matter simply because the client could not afford anything else. However, the downside to flat fees is that when the unexpected occurs, there is a built in disincentive to going the extra mile and one must consciously resist the temptation to do less.

While I still use time as a measure of cost to the client in most matters, there are various other ways that I avoid the billable hour trap and focus more on the value of the product to my clients. By “no charging” time that did not call upon my education and experience as an attorney, such as brief phone calls that just conveyed simple information, or that add to my experience and marketability, such as basic research in an unfamiliar area of law, I essentially do a form of value billing. However, I think this approach actually goes beyond what is usually meant by “value billing”.

Value billing just means that there is a set expected time it takes to prepare a certain document. For example, 1/2 an hour to draft a motion to compel discovery. A new associate may take an hour but only bills for 30 minutes while a seasoned attorney may do it in 10 minutes but bills for 30. Instead, I like to think my approach encapsulates value added to the client. I suspect there is no perfect solution to this dilemma, but I do know that it is only at a small firm or with a solo where one can find the freedom to experiment with better ways to bill.

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March 13, 2007 - Posted by | Solo & Small Firm

6 Comments »

  1. […] regarding lawyering and billable hours. The first by The Greatest American Lawyer and the second by LexingtonLawyers. Personally, I would prefer money to fall down from heaven like manna so that I could just proceed […]

    Pingback by The billable hour trap « Elusive Justice | March 13, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] this to my own billing practices as I described them here. It is a fallacy to believe that you automatically get higher quality representation with higher […]

    Pingback by What you won't get from a conscientious solo/small firm: « Lexington Lawyers | April 7, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] this to my own billing practices as I described them here. It is a fallacy to believe that you automatically get higher quality representation with higher […]

    Pingback by What you won’t get from a conscientious solo/small firm: « Bluegrass Business Law | May 11, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] by The Greatest American Lawyer. It reflects very closely my own approach to billing as I described here. I am reprinting his value billing policy here for comparison […]

    Pingback by Troutman & Napier, PLLC | Value billing approach | December 8, 2014 | Reply

  5. […] regarding lawyering and billable hours. The first by The Greatest American Lawyer and the second by LexingtonLawyers. Personally, I would prefer money to fall down from heaven like manna so that I could just proceed […]

    Pingback by Troutman & Napier, PLLC | The billable hour trap | December 8, 2014 | Reply

  6. […] this to my own billing practices as I described them here. It is a fallacy to believe that you automatically get higher quality representation with higher […]

    Pingback by Troutman & Napier, PLLC | What you won’t get from a conscientious solo/small firm: | December 8, 2014 | Reply


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