Talking About Work on Vacation

I sent this New York Times article to my boss the other day.

Where we work, the pressure to bill is not solely on the shoulders of the associates. The partners are under the gun too. You can walk around any floor of our office (and we have a total of 14) just about any time of the day or night, seven days a week, and you’ll see office lights on, lawyers at copiers and fax machines, secretaries in their cubicles. And we have a full staff of night secretaries who work from 4 p.m. to midnight during the week and all day on Saturday and Sunday.

But is time really money? I agree with the article that the pressure to bill creates a temptation to take the unethical shortcut. It’s been my observation, however, over my 25 years of working in law firms large and small, and especially within the last 10 years, that clients are increasingly demanding and choosy about who represents them.

Those big corporations that law firms romance have their own set of criteria. And one of the biggies is reduced billing rates. I’ve seen bills slashed across the board for certain clients as much as 30%. This means that an associate who normally bills out at $150 an hour for example is now billing this client at a mere $100 an hour. A partner whose regular billing rate is $400 is now billing at $270.

Not only that, but oftentimes, in order to attract and retain these corporate clients, law firms must agree to absorb most — if not all — of their overhead. This can get pretty expensive, especially when we are talking about such items as delivery fees, online legal research, secretarial overtime, legal assistant time, etc.

As far back as the late 1980s, I’ve seen big insurance carriers scrutinize their attorneys’ invoices. In fact, some of them even have staffers on hand do to nothing BUT peruse the bills, flag what they feel they should not pay for and cut a check for the difference. Just you try doing that with your accountant or your stockbroker or your anesthesiologist. See how far you get.

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