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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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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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