When they talk to outsiders — like the press and potential clients — lawyers will never admit that they personally are under billable hours pressure. No, most lawyers will go on about their professional standards and commitment to quality, with no regard for money at all. They want people to believe that money is, to them, an insignificant afterthought — it just appears in their bank account from gratuities left by grateful clients.
We even see these claims to financial purity in the ugliest billing disputes, after the lawyers have been caught in all sorts of scams. This misdirection always backfires: Is there anyone out there who really thinks lawyers have no financial pressure, just like everyone else? While it is certainly true that there are a few lawyers who really do slave away — for sums close to slave wages — but their alternative financial path is quite clearly different from the mainstream, for profit lawyers.
But, among themselves, even among senior partners, but especially when the topic is the core billable hours slaves (like associates, contract lawyers, and paralegals), the story is all about billable hours and creative ways to “enhance” billable work. Hourly billing is an honor system that rewards inefficiency, over-staffing, inexperience, procrastination, and even mistakes. A good exercise for any client is to demand a budget, then require the firm to reconcile their bills to their own budget. The comical lengths to which lawyers will blame others and the system, saying anything to avoid accountability even at their own hand is not so funny for clients who have experienced this hypocrisy first hand. Continue reading