The biggest competitive threat for lawyers

Is not the Legal Services Act or Tesco law.

It is the inability to let go.

There are innumerable areas that remain frozen in aspic but perhaps the one that warrants special mention is the billable hour.

From those entering the profession to equity partners, this is practically the only option that has been offered up. I don’t recall ever one single partner saying to me:

“Why don’t you ask the client what they think the job is worth?”

And the reason?

It must be blindingly obvious: The client would come up with a figure that was likely to be less than that which the lawyer would charge or, more contentious, could get away with.

I can hear some of you muttering: “How on earth would the client know?” But that misses the point.

You should know, given the statistically available information, how much each case is going to cost within a range of +/- 5%. If you don’t then it is simply because you haven’t bothered to collate the available information.

Take your average piece of litigation – say a defended debt recovery case which is allocated to the multi-track.

Have you collected the costs information for the last 50 cases and analysed them?


Why not?

I’ll tell you.


(a) it is too much like hard work;

(b) it would give you information that might not be that helpful to convincing the client to instruct you on a predictable scale (“Are you having a laugh? How much!”);

and (c) it might bring about a more compelling argument to proceed with a fixed fee model.

Lawyers are apt to consider the cost/benefit of each case but not enough. And certainly if you were armed with information that was correlative to your case, wouldn’t it be helpful rather than guessing each time, even allowing for detailed costs estimates that some firms insist on (and good on them).

For me the hourly billing model is out-dated, unhelpful to growing a practice and not meaningful, particularly given the way in which time is written off or discounts given on bills. I appreciate that it is a helpful management tool but that is only because law firms have not spent enough time working out a better one.

For those firms that refuse to change then it will only be a matter of time before others show how it is done.

3 thoughts on “The biggest competitive threat for lawyers

  1. Wholeheartedly agree… it would be a breath of fresh air to rid the world of the billable hour. That said, as a probate solicitor (non-practising) I have experienced the odd probate case which turns from something ostensibly predictable into a mess of serious family disagreements and other time-consuming things. To give a fixed quote for probates can therefore be mighty tricky, but I’m sure it’s do-able, particularly if the right systems are in place.

    By the way, while ridding the world of the billable hour can we rid the world of prices quoted exclusive of VAT too? It’s a common complaint about lawyers.

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