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 while allowing the client to believe that they are getting more value for the fee paid.
While tractor-powered meditation does not lend itself to delving into the mathematics of computing rates or proofs of dissimilarity between fee structures, it does lend itself to mulling on the concept of value. Out here, value is paying for 50 pounds of oats and finding 60 pounds in the bag.
While I have no doubt that some firms used the billable hour as a means of shorting that 50 pound sack, but I have yet to be convinced that any alternative fee arrangement could not be used in a similar manner. As I see it, the real question is not what fee arrangement you use or what name you call it, but rather are you putting 60 pounds in that 50 pound sack your customer is paying you for.