The End of Hourly Billing
Many lawyers talk about alternative fee arrangements. But what are the alternatives? And when are they most useful and effective?
For 15 years, I worked with clients on an hourly basis. Counting each tenth of a minute, I logged my hours and billed clients accordingly. In reality, however, the value of the services provided had no rational relationship to the time spent delivering those services. Additionally, the time spent delivering services should be reduced as I gained experience and became more efficient. So, to offset the anticipated reduction in time, each year my hourly rate increased. With the simple math of hours multiplied by rate, I earned more money by being less efficient.
The immigration practice, however, often works on a flat-fee model. The value of the services is determined by the value of the benefit sought and obtained. The cost of those services, then, retained a rational connection to the project. Additionally, efficiency became a critical component of my practice. Doing more with less benefitted me and my clients. A true win-win.
The employment practice has included flat-fee work on the counseling side, but rarely in the litigation context. Representing plaintiffs on a contingency fee basis has been a constant throughout my legal career.
But...what now? How can a full service practice eliminate hourly billing?
The answer is simple. For regular, repeat clients, a fixed monthly legal fee provides the client with access to counsel without counting minutes. For new clients, a flat-fee proposal gives the client comfort that the requested project can be accomplished within a predictable budget. And, of course, plaintiffs in employment matters can continue to rely on contingency fee billing.
In 2013, I reached the end of hourly billing. My clients have been excited to see that transition. I hope to see our profession move more in that direction in the coming months and years.