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Why legal professionals in apply need to be aware of time—particularly their billing time


This is pretty much as good a time as any to debate time. As Benjamin Franklin mentioned, “Remember that time is money”—however I received’t waste any time discussing his kites. What does time imply to legal professionals? Billable hours.

As many people within the career say, “All we have to sell is our time.” The query then turns into, how severely can we every take this principle?

I as soon as had lunch with a colleague, Barry, who was of my classic and stage of apply. I felt relaxed and requested him to spend just a few additional minutes with me having fun with a second cup of tea. He checked out his watch and instructed me he billed his shoppers $350 per hour. He mentioned a second cup would take 10 minutes to drink, and subsequently it will price him about $60. He merely couldn’t afford it.

I then tried to make the scenario extra palatable for him.

“Barry, your partner gets 50%?”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“So the tea will only cost you $30.”

He nodded in approval.

“Of the money you earn, you pay about 50% for taxes?” (We in Canada get soaked for taxes.)


“So it’s really only costing you about $15 for that second cup?” (My Socratic reasoning was profitable out.)

“But it would still cost me $1.50 for the tea.”

I agreed and added the $1.50 to the $15; this meant a complete of $16.50 for that second cup. I couldn’t dispute information.

“And in order for me to earn $16.50 net after taxes, I’ve got to bill $33.”

I couldn’t have agreed extra.

We each seen a scholar sitting subsequent to us having tea, and it was presumably costing him solely $1.50. Barry and that I quickly concurred that we must pay over 20 occasions this quantity for a second cup of tea. We each envied that scholar.

I rapidly took a sip of my first tea, and we stormed out of the restaurant. We each now clearly understood and appreciated the motivation of these American colonists who nearly 250 years in the past instigated the Boston Tea Party. I puzzled whether or not any of them had been legal professionals.

As legal professionals in apply, we have now to be aware of our time.

And what’s our routine unit of billing time? One-tenth—.1—of an hour. Is it metric? Not precisely, as a result of that works out to 6 minutes. This unit at all times bothered me. Is it truthful to the shopper? What in case your telephone dialog takes 4 minutes? Do you continue to invoice for six? Let’s think about you go to an costly chocolate retailer. The clerk places just a few premium truffles on the dimensions. They weigh 12 ounces, however she prices you for one pound saying, “We sell these by the pound. That’s close enough.” Would that be good enterprise?

At least you’ll get to see the proof on the dimensions, not like a lawyer’s invoice, what place the shoppers merely need to work with the consideration system, trusting it to be correct and truthful.

I knew one other lawyer, whom I’ll merely discuss with as “X.” If he ever reads this, he’ll know who he’s. X used to invoice somewhat creatively. If he referred to as somebody and reached the particular person’s voicemail, he would invoice the shopper .1. If, say, the shopper returned his call and left X a voicemail message—as a result of X was not out there—that was one other .1. Nothing was achieved for the shopper. Returning to the chocolate analogy, that’s like the shop clerk saying, “Those truffles aren’t available today. That will be $43, please.”

I discovered about this lawyer’s billing practices throughout an evaluation of his account earlier than a court docket evaluation officer. This is a process in our courts permitting scrutiny and overview of a lawyer’s invoice. We assessed X’s invoice to my shopper (by then X’s former shopper). The officer slashed X’s invoice large time, discovering different irregular and unscrupulous time padding, comparable to journey time to stroll over to the courthouse. I used to be so happy with the evaluation workplace’s resolution that I used to be tempted to get him a container of chocolate truffles. It most likely would have been OK; no matter the fee, I might not have put it on my shopper’s tab.

But we legal professionals may also be bitten by our shoppers who don’t worth our time. A woman who separated from her husband as soon as requested me to satisfy along with her relating to her scenario. She pleaded to satisfy within the nighttime at her suburban home as a result of she had two young children and it was tough for her to journey downtown to my workplace. I attended as requested and spent two hours reviewing her case. She in the end didn’t retain me, however I despatched her a invoice. It was for two.0 (nothing in any respect for journey time). She refused to pay. When I requested her why, she famous that she was shocked I even billed her, saying, “This was just a getting-to-know-you meeting.”

I believed this added a brand new dimension to the idea of legal professionals’ billable time. I by no means pursued her additional, although I might have gone the court docket evaluation route, out there to each shoppers and legal professionals. I doubt that the evaluation officer would have reviewed the billing proof and concluded, “I’m not allowing these two hours at all. Pure gouging. Who does he think he is, charging this poor woman? Shyster! After all, this was just a getting-to-know-you meeting.’”

I’ll be aware that legal professionals’ charges have come a good distance over time. Apparently, in historical Rome, authorized charges had been at the start banned for some motive. In different phrases, legal professionals earned for his or her providers about what I did with that aforementioned woman. According to Wikipedia, Emperor Claudius lifted the ban and legal professionals’ payments had a ceiling of 10,000 sesterces. But earlier than you say “wow,” a Wikipedia entry reads, “This was apparently not much money. The Satires of Juvenal complain[ed] that there was no money in working as an advocate.”

I actually felt that method after that getting-to-know-you assembly.

I’m retired from apply now, and my good friend Barry is not round. I actually benefit from the luxurious of getting that leisurely second cup of tea. I typically want, on reflection, I had allowed myself that indulgence extra typically again then. It would have been time well spent. And I actually wouldn’t miss the $33 now.

Marcel Strigberger, after 40-plus years of training civil litigation within the Toronto space, closed his regulation workplace and determined to proceed to pursue his humor writing and talking passions. Read extra of Strigberger’s work at marcelshumour.com, and comply with him at @MarcelsHumour on Twitter.


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