If Nick Jarrett-Kerr is right that the current downturn in work has removed the last excuse for partners avoiding to engage in valuable non-chargeable work (see his article in Kerma Partners Quarterly 2/08 and my earlier post Spending time wisely), then high on our list of things to look at is how to resolve the problem of a business model based primarily on selling time.
Although his post The new brand landscape for law firms in Law 21 is primarily aimed at law firm rebranding rights and wrongs, and is very well worth reading for that, Jordan Furlong also touches on billing and branding,
Today, brand opportunities are opening up everywhere — not primarily in new industries or practice areas, although there are a few of those, but in how a firm delivers value to its clients. Service delivery, billing parameters, value definition, client communications, risk sharing — these and many other key elements of customer relationships, which have lain dormant and ignored for years, are coming to sudden life.
Take the oldest complaint in the book — the billable hour system — as an example. Clients have moaned for decades about how the billable hour removes the burdens of accountability and risk from the lawyer (though clients share some of the blame for not pushing harder), and conventional wisdom called the billable hour unkillable.
But now there are firms that have successfully staked out this ground and branded themselves as having abandoned the billable hour altogether.