Once in the dark of night, Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose (O coming of delight!) And went, as no one knows, When all my house lay long in deep repose – Saint John of the Cross

One of the more nerve-racking things about public speaking is the wait between the speaking engagement and the receipt of the program evaluation sheets. It’s a giddily self-deluding period where, based on the positive feedback from the 3 people who talked to you in the 5 minutes between speakers, you are sure that all went well and that you are on the road to becoming the next great orator of our times. Then the evaluation sheets arrived and you realize that it will be some time before you are a threat to Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst. But, as often is the case, it is the comments and not the numerical evaluations that strike a chord , and it is one of these comments that I would like to take a moment to respond to. The writer states:

Rural [law] equals less rich (not necessarily ‘poor’). At age 28, I was desperate for a job, so I moved to a small town to work with an experienced attorney who is nearing retirement. Now, almost 7 years  later, I want to leave and will if I can. Modest income clients don’t (or won’t) pay attorney fees even though we charge much less per hour than attorneys in urban areas. Fact is, attorneys in rural areas make far less than in urban areas, often have bad clients, and can get better & more interesting jobs elsewhere. 

As our young writer has travelled halfway down life’s path, let me play Virgil to his Dante, and let our journey begin not in our Dante’s dark wood or in the proponent’s idealized celestial sphere, but rather at the foot of the craggy mountain of boots-on-the-ground reality. Young Dante,  I’ve yet to run across a lawyer (big city or small town) who has not had at least one the-grass-is-greener moment at some time or other in their career. Lawyering is a tough slog for anyone who gives half a damn about doing the best possible job they can for each client, and it sure doesn’t help that, for the average lawyer, it sure ain’t the high-paying, jet-setting, celebrity career the law school brochures described. Even I must admit to having the occasional lustful thought about packing it all in and heading off to look for a quiet associate’s position with a regular salary. However, if this is not merely a passing fancy but is one of those dark nights of the soul, then it is far better to move on to those greener pastures than to unhappily till the same dismal furrow. But before you go, talk to someone (a mentor, a friend, your local branch of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers); perhaps there are other options out there and it may be easier to fix what you have than to start something new.

The comment continues:

(more…)

When doing field work there comes a point, when keeping the tractor on course becomes automatic and the drone of the engine merges with the radio to produce a banjo punctuated white noise, that is marvelously conducive to deep thought and contemplation. As it is hay season here in Rural Lawyer land, there is plenty of field work to do. While baling, I found myself contemplating the supposed death of the billable hour and the various heirs to its throne.

As far as I can tell, the billable hour’s cause of death was a lack of value – that too little work was spread out over too much time and billed at too high a rate. And, if I understand the argument for using some type of alternative fee structure is that they replace the possibility for this kind of abuse with new and different possibilities for abuse (more…)

In the 19th century, Benjamin Brewster summed up the essence of the billable hour debate as:

A lawyer starts life giving $500 worth of law for $5 and ends giving $5 worth for $500.

The key questions surrounding this issue boil down to: “what is all this advice worth” and “what are clients willing to pay”. As I see it, these are two sides of the same coin and regardless of how you want to get paid, there is a simple methodology for arriving at a pricing structure that will satisfy both the attorney and the client – accurately determine your daily rate and then give your clients full value.

The magic formula is: (more…)

If I understanding things correctly, the basic premise behind value billing is that the fee for a matter is determined by the outcome and/or type of services the client wants and the significance (value) of that outcome to the client. However, this does not mean that the client is completely free to dictate the fee received for services rendered. Rather it falls upon the attorney to educate the client as to the value provided (Ron Baker, Pricing Psychology). It is suggested that the attorney establish some measure of value. In Value Billing – What is it, and how is it done, Allison Shields suggests that the attorney:

[D]iscuss the client’s current pain or challenge – in other words, what is it costing the client to do nothing? What will it cost the client if the client delays taking action? What opportunities might the client miss? Or what would it mean to the client to reach their objective? How will the result achieved affect the client’s business or personal life?

Now, for a business to remain in business, income must be greater than or equal to expenditures. Setting an hourly rate is, in essence, a simple matter of estimating: the hours that can be billed to clients over the course of a year, the expenses incurred, and the desired profit (rate = (expenses + profit)/hours). I submit that the value billing attorney must perform a similar calculus when trying to establish value provided, after all there are a fixed number of “things” that can be accomplished in a year and a known amount of income that must be generated. (more…)

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