Should billable hour targets be abolished?
Four senior members of the legal profession weigh in on the divisive topic of firm billing practices.
“Every business, from hospitals to banks, has targets for its staff and I don’t think anyone disputes the value of targets and measures in general. In terms of billable hour targets, I think whether they should be abolished or not depends on their purpose. If their purpose is primarily to be the basis on which clients are charged, then they should be abolished. However, if the purpose is to act as one measure of business performance, then they should not.”
“No need. It will disappear if clients don’t value it. But each client is different. There is a difference between time capture and time billing. Time capture is an important measure of productivity, matter profitability and fee estimate accuracy. Best practice time capture permits more accurate fee estimates and innovation, benefiting clients. Time billing is one of several billing options. The scope for pure time billing is becoming more limited. Almost all quality clients accept time billing for senior lawyers for defined periods of time. However, clients expect firms to provide accurate fixed fee estimates for larger matters.”
“Billable hour targets often come at a significant cost to the lawyer – to work-life balance, to family life and to pursuits outside the law. They exert relentless pressure, and this inevitably detracts from the enjoyment of practising law. They can also drive behaviours that clients don’t like, such as over-billing, the rewarding of inefficiency, and the six-minute unit. At Keypoint, we have no billable hour targets. Our principals are free to work closely with clients without having to justify their time or the investment which they choose to make in a client. This inevitably leads to closer and more satisfying client relationships.”
Law Institute of Victoria
“The billable hour was a great accounting initiative, but does not represent a lawyer’s value. The billable hour doesn’t work. For clients, it creates uncertainty about how much they will pay. For lawyers, it distorts legal practice and priorities, with less time for professional, client and business development, as well as life outside of law. For the public, it focuses on what lawyers charge, rather than the services we provide. The LIV is supporting members to find better ways of pricing their services. 2015 is a year for change – and the billable hour’s time is up.”