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In Search of Perfect Client Service Why lawyers don't seem to get it

A real live mythical creature speaks about alternative fees

Posted in Commentary

Utah Business recently published Industry Outlook: Legal, which featured a question about alternative fees.  It appears that Utah is an hourly billing utopia, immune to much of the turmoil firms face in the rest of the country.  This quote, from Darren Reid of Holland & Hart, struck me:

As a litigator, I can tell you that the billable hour is alive and well. We hear about these mythical beasts, these boutique firms that are doing all of these amazing things. They advertise in all of the national magazines and things. I don’t know how they do it. They clearly have different cases than the ones I’m working on. But I can tell you that I’m not putting food on the table unless I’m billing hours. That’s what our clients generally expect. At the margins, maybe there’s some room for innovation. But usually that’s maybe in the patent world or some other kind of niche practice. But as bread and butter commercial litigators, the billable hours drives the engine.

I’ve never been called a mythical beast before, though I have to confess I have been called just a plain old ordinary beast on occassion.  I take exception to the assertion that “they advertise in all of the national magazines.”  Valorem has never run an ad, let alone in a national magazine.  I am not sure of whom Mr. Reid speaks.  I was struck by the “I don’t know how they do it” line.  How, in this day and age, could a partner in any law firm, let alone one as prominent as Holland & Hart, not have insight into what clients demand and how law firms are being forced to respond.  It makes me wonder if Holland & Hart has developed some special formula to keep its realization rates from falling year over year, as has been the case for most law large law firms.  But regardless, if a firm wants to improve, to remain competitive, how can its partners not know these things.

In case there are people from Utah that read this, I just want to make clear that there are a growing number of law firms that do complex litigation of every stripe and variety using alternative fees.  We’re real, not mythical.  We embrace change and innovation not just because clients want us to, but because we need to be better at what we do every day to maintain client relationships.

When it comes to change, there are two categories of people–those who shape it and those who fall behind.