For quite a while now, Pat Lamb, my partner in Valorem Law Group, has encouraged me to write a “guest blog” entry (we affectionately call it a “glog”) on his blog. Never one to shy away from either a platform or a new adventure, I told him I would definitely do so. That was several months ago. In the passing time I considered a number of topics and spent more time than I care to admit on some drafts. And now, if for no other reason than to put myself (and Pat) out of misery, I’m taking the plunge. So here is my inaugural glog post – directed to in-house counsel, primarily, but also borne out of my own glogging experience.
Much like diving into the blog world, in-house counsel need to take the plunge into the world of alternative billing arrangements. And not the dip-your-toe-into-the-water-and-slide-in-slowly plunge. I am talking about the type of cannon-ball plunge that is loud, draws attention and sends torrents of water over the edge of the pool. Because while everyone is psychoanalyzing inertia, the safety of the status quo, and the phenomenon of human resistance to change, time is awastin’ (yes – pun intended). The power is in YOUR hands to demand whatever you want from the industry – especially in this economy. So why have so few taken advantage of this power to move away from the billable hour (and also to require the staffing and promotion of minorities and women — different topic for a different glog, but I couldn’t resist)? Are you trying to be judicious with your influence? How is that working so far?
Please don’t tell me that the legal industry just can’t change that quickly. It can if you drive it – if not with words, than with your business. It’s true that large firms so embody the billable hour model that radical change is simply not an option for them. To borrow a phrase from Pat, it would be like trying to turn an oil tanker around in a bathtub. But are you willing to hitch your star and your company’s future to an outdated and ineffective model when everything about it is at odds with your company’s own profitability and survival? Even though large law firms can’t or won’t change, many other ones have already. Valorem joins Bartlit Beck, Exemplar and the recently created Confluence Law Partners (and there are others) as law firms just waiting to not bill you by the hour.
The operative question isn’t whether the legal industry is ready, willing or able to change – it is whether you are. We are constantly hearing from clients and prospects about how their budgets are shrinking, litigation costs are increasing, and their outside counsel costs are exploding. And yet, rather than do what is needed to remedy the problem, they continue to funnel the vast majority of their work to their old firms and they continue to complain. A few years ago I would have thought the country was resistant to change – but the best example of people’s tolerance (and desire) for change just got sworn into office last week…twice!
If you really abhor the billable hour model, the ever-rising hourly rates (how did you like those rate increase letters this year?) and the disincentives to being efficient, creative and results-oriented, then trade in the most hated 8 words in the English language (“because that’s how it’s always been done before”) for three more profound (okay, practical) ones – “Take The Plunge.” Why wait for the tipping point, when it takes time and sends out only a ripple? Why not make the type of splash that makes people sit up and take notice (and while you’re at it, take some friendly GCs from other companies with you). The ability to change is in your hands – now take them, wrap them tightly around your knees, and jump.
Phew, that’s it. I’ve done it. My first glog post. And believe me, when it comes to blogging, I’m no Pat Lamb – but it only took a moment to realize that now that I’ve taken the plunge, the water really is quite comfortable (even if my hands are pruny).