Scott Turow on the Billable Hour

…I still believe that lawyers in general, and litigators in particular, are yet to confront the realistic limits of [the] competitive environment. And in this regard there is no more vicious culprit than the practice of basing our fees solely on the time spent on a matter.

Dollars times hours sounds like a formula for fairness. What could be more equitable than basing a fee on how long and hard a litigator worked to resolve a matter? But as a system, it’s a prison. When you are selling your time, there are only three ways to make more money—higher rates, longer hours and more leverage. As the years have gone on, the push has continued on all three fronts.

The cover story in the ABA Journal magazine for August is “The Billable Hour Must Die,” by Scott Turow — that Scott Turow. With an emphasis on litigators, itt’s a well-written ride across the top of the serious issues that arise because of the current predominant system. With Chicago firms expecting something like 40 billable hours a week from young lawyers — that’s billable hours, when you’re working on a matter for which the firm is retained — there’s precious little time for those things that not only make for a worthwhile life that also sustain a healthy, knowledgeable, grounded profession.

Simon Chester wrote about this on Slaw just about a year ago.

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