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IBA: Climate Changing the Billable Hour

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A survey recently released by law firm management consulting company Altman Weil reports a clear consensus emerging among US law firms on changes in the profession. Over 75% of firms surveyed indicate that they believe that more price competition, more non-hourly billing and the use of project management to improve efficiency of service delivery will be permanent changes in the legal landscape.

“The primary impact on law firms of the recent recession will be a greater focus on efficiency and productivity driven by client demands for cost control,” said Altman Weil principal Tom Clay. “But most firms are still in the early stages of figuring out how to successfully institutionalize those changes in their organizations.”

The majority of law firms do not expect the changes to negatively affect their bottom line. In fact, only 27% of those surveyed believe that lower profits per partner will result.

The survey reports that 94.5% of law firms offer some alternative fee arrangements (AFAs), and all firms with 150 or more lawyers do so. The majority of firms indicate that their use of AFAs is primarily in response to client requests, rather than as a proactive strategy. Additionally, half of all firms say their fee arrangements are either less profitable than matters billed hourly, or they’re not sure how they compare.

When asked about tactics employed to implement AFA programs in their law firms, 80% report they require centralized approval for AFAs; 61% use cost analysis to determine fee structures, and 45% have AFA Committees. However, less than a third of firms track profitability outcomes, feature fee options in marketing communications, provide project management training, or set annual targets for AFAs.

“We’re seeing some systemization, especially in larger firms, but there is a long way to go before alternative fee programs are business-focused and profit-driven rather than being seen as concessions to clients,” Clay said.•

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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