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.
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.”
Read the whole article.