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October 12, 2007

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James

Allison:

I think you're completely on the mark. But let me be, perhaps, a BIT more, ummm, strident than you are with respect to maintaining timesheets.

There's no good reason to keep them, ever, except insofar as the lawyer is just too insecure to let them go. But a lawyer who keeps timesheets when s/he is supposedly down the alternative billing scenario is a lawyer who claims to have been potty trained but still wants to wear a dydee, for, you know, "old time's sake," or something.

Let me share with you something that really crystallized this for me. This comes from the blog of a certain rabble-rousing rabblerouser, who shall remain nameless, reprinted by permission, and I quote:

"Your Surgeon, on the other hand, is billing for her knowledge, skill, and ability. That operation may only take her 2, 3, 4 hours. MAYBE, if there are complications, it might take more. But, that's okay with you. In fact, you're VERY hopeful she's in and out. You would, IN FACT, prefer that she be in and out. You'd LOVE the hell out of that. Her fee is $15,000.00, no matter how long it takes. She said so. Fine, you said.

And, if she comes back and tells you, "Hey, Mikey, the surgery went SO smoothly. . .we were in and out in about 75 minutes. . .your recovery was lightning fast. . .you're like a GENIUS patient. From induction to clearance out of Recovery, I think you were, I don't know, maybe four hours tops. You're the shortest case ever!" you'll probably kiss her, if you're not too groggy."

I like that. I always have. I think it's a good, no, a GREAT point. Surgeons don't have these issues, and they don't fiddle around with trying to "justify" their fees, and they don't spend any time trying to tell their clients, many of whom are the selfsame CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, CIOs, GCs, and LMNOPs that work for the same darn companies that like to stick microscopes up the billing records of attorneys, and firms, and make them account for every microsecond of time for which they've been billed. Frankly, I think its obscene.

If a CEO or a CFO was asked by his or her board to account for their time the way they ask their Counsel to account for time, they'd have a STROKE, with good reason.

Not only that, but when you only look at clock time, you can't help but take a, how can I say this, well, a "reductionist" view of things, which automatically drops the inherent value in the service. All of a sudden, legal services are commoditized, and a lawyer isn't special, and legal services aren't unique. . .they're fungible goods. And that really doesn't work for me.

Because, really, all I have to sell IS uniqueness, specialness, "out of the ordinary-ness" (new phrase, is there an IP-doc in the house?); this person is BETTER than that one over there. . .fungible is mine enemy.

So, if for no other reason that because it hurts me where I live (i.e. my wallet, the only thing I'll ever truly love), I object to hourly billing because it reduces lawyers to wind-up mechanical devices. . .punch toys with blood and sinews. . . and tries to make them be what they are not; automatons who toll the universe in six-minute increments. But that's not what lawyers are, and that is not what they do. At least not the ones I know, and certainly not the ones I work for.

Lawyers, the ones I know, the ones I work for, the reason I do what I do, are the "finger in the dike," the stopgap, the breakwater, pick your own overheated expression. . .but you know what I mean.

Lawyers, not cops, not judges, not social workers, and, mercy betake us, not politicians or corporate leaders, but Lawyers, are the ones that maintain the buffer between a functioning society and complete anarchy. Lawyers advocate. Lawyers advance a position. They make an argument. Sometimes, they even perseverate. But at least they show up. And I find it a little disheartening when the discussion centers around how their contribution should be valued, as if it could be measured out in spoonfuls, or by ticks of the clock.

But I know this FOR SURE. Until lawyers begin to value THEMSELVES, and their contributions, a little more, nobody else is going to value them either. . .and the clock is ticking.


Warm Regards,

James E. Mason
Managing Partner
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting

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