In our firm, the first question of many a client is how much our representation is going to cost them. For general business related work, we charge on an hourly basis unless we can develop a more suitable arrangement with the client.
Often this is difficult, as it is hard to predict how much time and effort will be involved in any particular matter. However, we are open to any kind of fee arrangement that makes mutual business sense. If our fees can be tied to certain recurrent events or certain standard deliverables, a non-hourly based fee structure could be beneficial for both sides.
While quite common today, billing on the basis of increments of time places the same value on every unit of time spent on a matter. However, practicing law is not like producing the proverbial widget. At times working on a contract or a letter proceeds swiftly; at others the drafting process is complex and difficult.
Lawyers are human, and do not produce standard, uniform outputs by the hour or any other measure. Furthermore, law is more art than science, and involves as much judgment, training, and experience as it does knowledge or information. Sometimes interruptions and cumulative pressures undermine productive thinking. Some days we are tired and dense, other days sharp and insightful. Sometimes we are struck by an inspiration in an instant, at others we struggle to put three sensible words together.
It is simply not possible to create perfect billing processes that can capture the varying value of each minute that a lawyer spends on a matter. Nor it is possible for the lawyer to stop thinking about matters at will. Thoughts on how to solve a legal puzzle may present themselves in the shower or while jogging. The client gets the benefit of that momentary insight.
The truth of the matter is, sound billing practices are rooted in respect for the client and in the client’s respect for his lawyer.
We operate by one standard – would we pay for the time that we are charging to the client? In other words, when recording time spent on a matter, we try to put ourselves in the shoes of our clients and ask, if we were the client being billed for the time that is recorded in our timekeeping system, would we be happy to pay it? Even that approach will not always provide a satisfactory answer.
So, our abiding position is: open and continuous communication with the client about any aspect of our billing practices or an individual bill.
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