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« September 2008 | Main | November 2008 »

Matt Homann Shares His "Ten Rules About Hourly Billing"

Last week, we looked at the billable hour in light of current economic conditions.  Economic factors provide a context in which to reevaluate hourly billing, but it is also useful to continue to explore more generally the merits and potential problems of billing our services by the hour.

Some questions we can ask about the billable hour include:

  • Why do we bill hourly?
  • Does hourly billing represent the true value of what we provide to our clients?
  • Does billing by the hour provide the best assurance that we will be paid for our services, without any client disputes or hassles?

These are just a few basic, preliminary questions.  At the [non]billable hour, Matt Homann, a lawyer, mediator, and entrepreneur, offers his Ten Rules About Hourly Billing.  Each of his "rules" provides an important point to ponder about how we bill for our work and invites us to consider whether we want to bill by the hour or according to some other fee-calculating method.  It is helpful to consider each of the "rules" in relation to our practices and our clients.  Doing so will help us make informed decisions about whether to keep hourly billing or to adopt some other billing model.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

Susan Cartier Liebel Explains Why Now is a Perfect Time to Go Solo

Gloom.  Plunging stock prices.  Layoffs.  "Negative growth."  Does any of that sound familiar?  It does, if you've been following mainstream news and blog coverage of the current global economy.

In these tumultuous times, law firms are laying off lawyers and lateral positions and first jobs are increasingly difficult to find.  So, what can you do?  You can keep looking for employment.  You can lie awake at night and beweep your adverse state.  Or you can hire yourself.

Continue reading "Susan Cartier Liebel Explains Why Now is a Perfect Time to Go Solo" »

Today's Economy Prompts Rethinking the Billable Hour

We've written a lot about the billable hour from various perspectives, and have considered some alternative billing arrangements available to lawyers and clients.  Lately, the health of the global economy has been making news headlines daily and, as a recent article in the Washington Post observes, the larger and more intense economic pressures are forcing many clients and lawyers to seriously reconsider how fees for legal services are billed.

In-house lawyers are leading the efforts to question, and perhaps abandon, hourly billing by the law firms that represent their companies.  Today's economic challenges are compelling in-house attorneys to significantly reduce their own costs, while fees paid to outside law firms have tended to increase at rates higher than employee salaries, energy costs, and other business expenses.

Continue reading "Today's Economy Prompts Rethinking the Billable Hour" »

"Alternative Lawyer Jobs" Site Helps Attorneys Find Alternative Careers

Earlier this year, we featured several law school graduates who are pursuing career alternatives to the private practice of law. Now, there is a Web site dedicated to the quest for such work.  Alternative Lawyer Jobs, subtitled as "Careers for Lawyers Who Want Something More," says it will help those attorneys who are "[t]ired of traditional law practice" to find their "jobs."  In fact, the site's FAQs page points out that Alternative Lawyer Jobs posts "just about every other job opportunity" that would interest individuals with law degrees, except for private practice jobs.

At the time of this writing, the site lists 312 different jobs in a variety of cities throughout the United States and Canada, and allows employers to post job descriptions or links to descriptions on other Web sites at no charge.  The site itself has a number of interesting features including a "Job Alerts" e-mail system to notify subscribers of new job listings, and a Career Blog that features stories about alternative forms of employment for lawyers.

Continue reading ""Alternative Lawyer Jobs" Site Helps Attorneys Find Alternative Careers" »

Does Work-life Balance Help Lawyers Serve their Clients Better?

Reading a recent essay in the Bermuda Sun got me thinking about the importance of work-life balance not just for lawyers, but for clients.  Let me explain.

In this deeply personal account of her successes and failures in living a balanced life, Joy Pimental, executive vice president of marketing with the Argus Group, tells how she has tried to balance the time she spends on career and volunteer work with the time she gives to her family and friends.  Often, however, Pimental seemed to be forgetting to care for herself, always focusing on others' needs.  She recalls, "I never put myself first; I would have felt selfish if I did."

Continue reading "Does Work-life Balance Help Lawyers Serve their Clients Better?" »

Sumpter & Gonzalez Practices Criminal Defense by Treating the Client as a Whole Person

The problems that lead a person to be charged with a crime, convicted, and sentenced are often complex and numerous.  For instance, an accused person may have a history of substance abuse or mental illness, or may have recently experienced an unusually stressful event such as a divorce.  The attorneys at Sumpter & Gonzalez, a seven-lawyer criminal defense firm in Austin, Texas, understand that the criminal offenses with which their clients are charged do not happen in isolation from other events in the clients' lives.  For that reason, they take a holistic approach to criminal defense that starts when the client first arrives at their office and continues after the court case concludes.

Corrine Sumpter and David Gonzalez, who are married to one another, head this innovative operation.  For each of its clients, the firm obtains a full social history and starts looking for mitigating events in the client's case right at the start of the representation.  Sumpter & Gonzalez also uses a social worker and interns in criminal justice and social work to gather and present evidence in court on the client's behalf.

Continue reading "Sumpter & Gonzalez Practices Criminal Defense by Treating the Client as a Whole Person" »

Losing Lawyers to Lack of Work-life Balance

What happens when lawyers cannot achieve a healthy work-life balance at their firms?  Individual lawyers will find varying solutions to the problem, but some of them will leave.  So reports the London Times about new research presented by Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom, that indicates some law firms remain "suspicious of [their lawyers working at home] and of employees who want a healthy 'work-life balance'."

The study identified several barriers to more flexible work arrangements, including these:

  • a prevalent "long-hours" culture;
  • the need for lawyers to be seen working in the office;
  • billable-hour quotas of 1,800 hours per year or more;
  • 50- to 60-hour work weeks;
  • a suspicion that working from home is a "soft" option that involves shorter work hours;
  • an erroneous belief that clients expect their lawyers to be available 24x7; and
  • the current economic climate that will likely cause firms to be even more resistant to having associates and partners work from home or part-time.

Continue reading "Losing Lawyers to Lack of Work-life Balance" »

Gravett & Gravett: Divorce Attorneys Who Help Couples Save Their Marriages

When most people think of divorce attorneys, they imagine lawyers who work with people to dissolve their marriages. However, a law firm in New York state, Gravett & Gravett, goes a step further: they help troubled couples to try to save their marriages.

The firm takes a high-tech approach to saving marriages: it recently launched to provide visitors with free information they can use to preserve their marriages. The site contains

  • a directory of marriage counselors and mental health professionals in Westchester County, New York,
  • articles about the realities of divorce and how to deal with marital conflict effectively,
  • a collection of books with links to them on, and
  • a library of links to Web sites that offer information and help to struggling couples.

Continue reading "Gravett & Gravett: Divorce Attorneys Who Help Couples Save Their Marriages" »

Attorney John Rittelmeyer Champions Disability Rights

John Rittelmeyer seriously explored several occupations, including retail sales and computer programming, before deciding on a career in the law.  Even after becoming a lawyer, Rittelmeyer, of Cary, North Carolina, remained open to career change.  After many years in the private practice of law, in 2007, Rittelmeyer changed jobs to become the director of legal services for Disability Rights North Carolina, an organization on whose board he had been serving since the mid-1990s.

These days, Rittelmeyer spends his work time advocating for people with disabilities who might otherwise lack meaningful access to the legal system.  He earns only about half of what he was making in private practice, but he finds his work for Disability Rights North Carolina much more satisfying.

Continue reading "Attorney John Rittelmeyer Champions Disability Rights" »

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