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Cravath Lawyer: Kill the Billable Hour
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Evan R. Chesler, a Presiding Partner at New York’s Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, has made a bold suggestion in January’s Forbes Magazine: Kill the billable hour.

I’m a trial lawyer. I bill by the hour. So do the associates who work for me. I have lots of clients, so I can pretty much work, and bill, as much as I want. This needs to be fixed. Yes, you read that correctly.

Clients have long hated the billable hour, and I understand why. The hours seem to pile up to fill the available space. The clients feel they have no control, that there is no correlation between cost and quality.

  
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Chesler compares what he does to what a contractor does — except the contractor gives you an estimate, and then sticks to it. If the contractor gets the job done quickly, he makes more money — if there are problems, he makes less.

So what am I proposing? For reasonable periods of time during the life of a lawsuit, say three months at a time, I should do what [a contractor] does: identify the client’s objectives, measure, calculate, build in a contingency and come back with a price. Once the price has been agreed upon, the billable hour should be irrelevant. The client will no longer be surprised by a whopper bill and met by the standard (albeit true) explanation that “litigation is unpredictable.”

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