John Chisholm says it's time the profession pulled its head out of the sand on the problem of time-based billing.
A whole raft of eminent people - from the heads of judiciary in several jurisdictions, a number of prominent corporate counsel, the overwhelming majority of young lawyers who detest being made to account for every six minutes of their day (and night), the legal press, the Victorian Attorney General and now the Federal Attorney General - have been calling on the legal profession to reduce [or eradicate] its addiction to time based billing.
Apart from most law firms, the bodies keeping quiet on the issue include lawyer representative bodies such as Law Council of Australia and the state law societies, the practice management vendors that make their living from timesheet entries and the legal consultants who perpetuate the "$ x hours" leverage model as best practice.
In regard to the silence... is it not just a little ironic that for all the good they do in promoting and supporting cost of access justice issues and upholding the reputation of lawyers in the community, they seemingly fail to appreciate that time-based billing is a major factor in both the burdensome cost of access to justice and the diminished reputation of the legal profession in the wider community?
Even if such esteemed organisations do appreciate this, they are horribly conflicted by their role as the Union of the legal profession, which means anything that could possibly diminish the financial returns to its members cannot be supported.
With all these vested interests working overtime, coupled with the innate conservatism of our profession, is it any wonder -notwithstanding the pent up demand for change and the irrefutable business and social case for its demise - the profession clings to time-based billing like a baby suckling from its mother's breast? Yet, some time the baby has to be weaned!
Is the majority of the profession going to wait until governments or clients force it to change? Governments can force the change in two ways - by bringing in yet another set of regulations, or use their considerable strength as purchasers of legal services to force law firms to move away from time based billing.
What a shame, and what a blight on our profession, if this is how it is going to come about when we could quite easily change ourselves. At the same time [we could] recapture some of the moral high ground we have clearly lost since time-based billing was introduced for the betterment of future generations of our profession and clients.
I am sure that by adopting the ostriche pose the world (or such of the world as you can see and hear under sand) appears calm and safe. The only trouble is you cannot see what is coming your way until it actually hits you.
John Chisholm is the former chief executive of law firm Middletons. He now owns his own law firm consultancy, Chisholm consulting.
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