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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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