Wasting Your Life

After years of sitting quietly listening to the complaints, I’ve finally had enough. Critics of the legal profession and the billable hour speak of all lawyers as if they are identical, mindless billing machines. While many (but not all) of us do account for our time by the billable hour, that does not necessarily mean that all we do is live and breathe solely for the purpose of driving up our hours. Some of us actually have lives outside the office. A few of us even have things in addition to the law that interest us. And many of us still believe that we are members of an honorable profession that serves clients and the public good.

My colleague, Rees Morrison, included in a recent blog post the following assertion by Raymond Bayley that he found curious.  For my part, it reminded me of the false conclusions you can reach when you don’t consider all the factors that motivate lawyer action:

…several studies show that lawyers spend more than 20 percent of their time looking for things. If you can bill 400 or more hours annually looking for things, there is no incentive to build a better knowledge management system to eliminate this wasted expense, unless you provide services on a fixed fee basis, as we do at [Mr. Bayley’s firm].

No incentive? What about self-respect?!  Even if I could spend 400 hours looking for things (and get paid for the effort), I wouldn’t.  Why? Because it’s a colossal waste of my time and my client’s money.  Why would I want to spend hour after hour engaged in such soul-sapping activity?

When I plan state of the art law firm knowledge management systems, I’m focused on improving the quality of the services we provide to our clients.  I’m also interested in training lawyers and adopting a responsible approach to risk management.  Finally, I actually take some satisfaction from the fact that these systems make the lives of the professionals in my firm easier and more productive.  The last thing I should be worried about is that efficiency gains will lead to a decrease in billings.  Why?  Because it is healthier for a firm to generate revenue through efficient, high quality service than by cheap tricks that artificially pump up billable hours at the expense of client satisfaction and lawyer self-respect.

Regardless of whether we provide services on a billable hour, fixed fee or pro bono basis, I’ll still keep looking for ways to improve the quality and efficiency of those services.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.

As for those nameless lawyers who allegedly spend their lives as mindless billing machines, someone should remind them that it’s not actually about billing clients.  It’s really about not wasting your life.

[Photo Credit:  Mike Licht]

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