Yet more on the billable hour

More posts in the world of blawgs, particularly Never mind the billables by  Jordan Furlong in Law 21, following the article Killable hour in the latest Economist. Regular readers of this blog will know that selling time is one of my pet hates.

Furlong puts it very well in his post,

Your client doesn’t care how much profit you make for yourself; the client only cares that you delivered excellent value in a cost-effective (to the client) manner. How you bill your services is between you and your client; how much it costs you to deliver those services has to be your number-one business priority.

Selling time is the antithesis of selling value. Read Stefan Stern’s article Focus on value or pay the price in the FT (now some three months old). I liked his closing paragraph,

But for most businesses protecting margins in the next few months is going to prove extremely difficult. Cynics, Oscar Wilde once said, know “the price of everything but the value of nothing”. You know things are tough when the cynics don’t know the price either.

A great depression

Notwithstanding my injunction to cultivate a habit of optimism, the legal press continues to provide some element of corrective. It is some comfort, though not a lot, to know that lawyers across the piece are having the same problems, contemplating the same actions, and, quite possibly, making the same mistakes.

A sobering article in the FT last month, Redundancy and the threat of a great depression, caught my eye, and in particular the section on employees having to take on an increased workload. Now I have colleagues who think that this is no bad thing, but . . .

The potential for working harder, he [William Shanahan, medical director and lead addictions psychiatrist at Capio Nightingale Hospital] says, is exacerbated by technology: “BlackBerries and mobile phones mean that people are not managing their time well. They cannot relax even on a holiday, which can create problems with families.”

Managing time well is itself one more pressure on lawyers. It is one most of live with and, by and large, we learn how best to do it. It is, however, not just working harder, but also finding yourself with little or no work – and more time than usual. Having said that, writing this post is one way of dealing with the delay in replies from two of my clients on transactions where there is nothing more I can do until I hear from them further.

Cultivating the habit of optimism

Holiday (a week reminding myself why living in the South West is so much better than simply visiting it, although narrow lanes south of Padstow when the lifeboat is on a shout make for interesting driving) and transactions (yes, they are still happening – just) have left little to time to post; a late summer lull and a transaction gone away are prompts to return.

A phrase I read recently, and have been shameless in using since, is “the habit of optimism”. In the current position a lot of us find ourselves in, it is useful to remember things may not be bad as they seem, and even if they are, it doesn’t always do to say so (and it is not just about talking ourselves into recession: a concept that I do not subscribe to).

In my post Spending time wisely in early July, I picked up on some of the steps that we can take in our practices to see us through the slowdown, whether it be long or short, and in particular to those identified by Nick Jarrett-Kerr of Kerma Partners, in his article in Kerma Partners Quarterly 2/08.

Nick, when looking at ‘where partners should be spending their time during a market turndown’ sees motivating and developing people as a critical task. I could not agree more. For most lawyers, this is their first experience of a down turn in the legal services market. There are few days when the legal press doesn’t carry a story about lay offs and redundancies, and ‘on the floor’ it is obvious that there is less work around. Inevitably this may have a demoralising impact on people; even if they are not directly affected, they will know people who are. The old certainties are longer be there.

Optimism is important: one of the panel at a recent Exeter Business Leaders Forum, having first reminded us that the current economic turbulence was the fourth time down turn he had experienced, told us that one of the main lessons he had learned  is that, even in a down turn, when you get up in the morning, the sun is still shining, people are still going to work, things are still being built, goods are still being sold. Certainly times are harder, and life is more difficult, but this is what happens.

Optimism is not blind hope that everything will be all right; rather it is knowing not just that there is a way forward, but what it is and what it will take to get there. This is a message that needs to be got across to the people who work for us.

“Weary, pissed-off and despairing”

So says one senior Labour party official, reported by George Parker in the FT this morning, describing how people are feeling in the party.

I have news for this anonymous Labour loyalist. His words describe exactly how most of us in the country feel about Gordon Brown, and the shambles over which he is presiding. You cannot get more out of touch with reality than Brown’s repeated insistence that he is the best man to lead Britain. On current form he couldn’t lead us out of a paper bag.