Mitch Kowalski said something during his visit to our firm a while back that I feel is worth remembering.
A member of our firm questioned, legitimately so, whether the introduction of ABS would unduly chip away at the ability of smaller firms to retain clientele and keep the lights on. Mr. Kowalski replied that the purpose of law is not to provide a living to lawyers. Such a sentiment is difficult to argue against, despite the fact that we maintain an interest in making sure there is ample opportunity in this field to sustain us with a comfortable living.
It is no secret that there the traditional way of doing things is being disrupted, and that this disruption will not abate any time soon. Indeed we at L21C understand that we must adapt. In order to adapt what better way than to tackle the problem of how we price our services? The method of billing clients for the amount of time put into a file is, simply put, inefficient. Clients want to pay for a result, not time. Is it any wonder why jokes about lawyers are so prominent? Or why people dread having to hire a lawyer?
The billable hour has faced criticism lately as pitting client against lawyer. More can be read about that here and here.
As a response to growing criticisms of the billable hour, numerous proposals have been forwarded. Alternative fee arrangements (AFA’s) have sprung up and what they all have in common is that they are rejections of billing for time spent on a file.
While thinking about this problem, I considered the manner in which construction jobs are priced, which, as the vignettes point out, is generally done on a cost-plus basis. The problem, of course, is that litigation can be wildly unpredictable, and to quote based on anything resembling a flat fee might be extremely unfair for a lawyer.
When it comes to solicitor work, though, especially the kind of legal matter that is extremely cut and dry (at least, as basic as a legal service can be), I think that charging a flat fee would in fact be more in line with attacking the access to justice problem. It would provide clients an ascertainable way to know what a given legal service will cost them.
So in answering Mr. Kowalski’s question, it can be said that no, law is not there for the purpose of giving lawyers a way to make a living. But the law would not be robust, strong, and capable of helping those who need recourse to it if did not provide those working in the field with at least a decent standard of living. Great minds otherwise drawn to the practice of law might sadly not even consider it because of the prospect of low earnings.
One thing is for certain: things are going to change. Perhaps the change is not directly on the horizon. It will, sooner or later, however, arrive. We at L21C have learned about technology-driven legal service alternatives and, this being 2015, these types of information technology products will increase in their quantity and accessibility. If we wish to adapt in a way that welcomes the inevitable wave of change, we have to rethink and perhaps even discard some things seemingly held sacred in our profession, and the concept of the billable hour seems ripe for such rethinking.
What do my fellow L21C firm members think? Does anyone have any innovative idea about how we should bill clients, given the fact that the “billable hour” is reported as being a barrier to people seeking legal help?