Time For an Ethical Enema

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Most of my work is done with sole practitioners and small law firms.  I enjoy working with them because they are generally highly receptive to the things I teach.  Big law firms on the other hand often have stupid requirements that get in the way of old fashioned commonsense.
 
Recently I met with a BIG LAW firm attorney (let’s call him Mr. Big) as part of an interview series I am doing with successful lawyers.  This guy came highly recommended by his Managing Partner.  My interview with him was short.
 
I ended it after the first question.

My first question to Mr. Big was: “What makes you so successful?”  I thought he would say something about client service or a dedication to quality research or diligence in pursuing justice for his clients.  I thought he would share a secret with me that I could, in turn, pass along to my clients.
 
Here was his answer:  “I’m successful because I bill the crap out of my clients.”

I was stunned.  Mr. Big went on the regale me with stories of how he has billed over 300 hours each month for the past 3 months.  For those of you who are not great with math that means he is billing 12.5 hours per day, six days a week or billing 10 hours a day for an entire month straight (for three consecutive months).
 
So Mr. Big bills all of this time and he NEVER takes a day off right?  Absolutely not.  He works a half day one day on the weekend and takes the other day completely off.  He says he usually makes up for that half day by “cutting out early to play golf one day during the week.”

I can’t say I was shocked by this.  I know it happens quite a bit.  The problem comes when these people submit their bills.  If they submit an hourly bill and it is not true they are perpetrating a fraud.

The argument people make to counter this point is that they are billing for “the time it would take if someone else did the work.”  In other words, because the attorney is highly experienced in this area of the law, he can get something complicated done quicker than others with less experience.
 
That’s great.  If you have that experience you should receive a premium for your services just don’t extract it by padding the number of hours worked.  Charge a flat fee, a value-based fee, and explain to your client that they are receiving the benefit of your experience.
 
There are no less than 30 different ways to structure fees in an attorney/client relationship.  I cover these ways with my clients each and every day.  Hourly billing is BY FAR the worst billing method. Not just because the client will get screwed (early and often) but because the lawyer will often get screwed as well (if you don’t think clients report overbilling to the state bar, think again).
 
If you need some help crafting an alternative billing methodology, give me a call 888.692.5531.  Don’t put yourself and your client in an uncomfortable position – the position of a person who has received an ethical enema.