Selling time

My favourite New Yorker cartoon is of two large, plump cats, either side of a mouse-hole. One is saying to the other, “If we were lawyers, this would be chargeable time.” It says it all. My partners have had to put up with my constant refrain, when we discuss billing strategies, that we should not be in the business of selling time, but instead should be persuading our clients to pay for value. The problem is that time cost as a measurement seems so simple, clients may not like it but are used to it, and everyone else does it, so why should we change. Well, things are changing. Front page of the FT on Monday was the report Lawyers in UK reform hourly charges. This began,

Leading London-based law firms are reforming their system of hourly charges as they come under fire from clients who feel they are paying too much at a time of soaring legal industry profits.

Leading firms told the Financial Times that they were offering alternatives to hourly rates and making more use of cost-cutting business practices, such as putting services offshore. The shift highlights growing external pressures on the legal profession to change, after a period of dramatic earnings growth achieved through expanding internationally and exploiting the corporate takeover boom.

British firms have for the most part been slower than their US counterparts to examine alternatives to hourly billing. In the US, firms have for several years been under significant pressure to reform.

All I will add is about time to. It is not enough to argue that because it is easy, it must be the right way to do it. And if this is happening in the City, how long before it reaches the rest of us?

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