Author: Jim Hassett
Perhaps things are different in the US. It may have more of an entrepreneurial business culture than the UK. There certainly seems to be more pressure on US legal firms to develop individual models for billing as a selling point to clients who want to reduce costs.
This book is written for a US market, using expressions such as ‘risk collars’, ‘partial and full contingencies’, ‘holdbacks’ and, my favourite, ‘suicide billing’. These phrases may be unfamiliar here but the issues are ones we know about.
This book is about being attractive and therefore competitive to win and keep clients. Legal project management is defined as the application of the concepts of project management to the control and management of legal cases. Legal project management is becoming increasingly common, we are informed, especially in firms working under alternative fee arrangements such as fixed fees. This is more to do with managing the work than the client, which in turn means managing the staff.
Legal project management means doing large amounts of work well – but not too well, as the client expects to pay for good but not perfect work.
Successful marketing in the US is often about the alternative to the ‘billable hour’. This line of thinking stems largely from an America Bar Association report in 2002 on billable hours which heralded a sea change in the US.
That document gave 18 reasons why charging by the hour is a bad idea. For example, it discourages communication between lawyer and client, penalises the efficient lawyer and does not reward the lawyer for productive use of technology. All of these make perfect sense.
In the UK we need to move away from the billable hour to the fixed fee, which is a process we are now getting to grips with. Lawyers are selling a product in a competitive world.
We are probably less innovative or more conservative, but clients drive pricing policies, whether they are multinational or high street. My feeling is that the client should not be sold a clever marketing ploy to make the services look attractive and reasonably priced.
A happy client pays the bill? Well, sometimes. Clients have expectations in respect of quality and costs. Most expect everything done yesterday, for free.
David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott