Law Practice Management

Shift to Smaller Firms & Value Challenge Aren't Killing Billable Hour, Consultant Says


As attorneys and law firms have responded to the economic debacle of the past year or so, there have been significant shifts in the way they do business.

But a great deal—including use of the much-criticized billable hour—hasn’t changed all that much, nor does it need to, consultant Robert Denney told the Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group earlier this month, discussing his annual report on what’s hot and what’s not in the legal profession.

The billable hour is far from dead, he says, and despite pressure from clients for “value,” most corporate counsel are concerned about lower rates and reduced legal costs rather than alternative billing arrangements, reports the Legal Intelligencer.

Meanwhile, a number of practice areas remain strong, including those focused on the automobile industry, energy, financial services, health care, insurance, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications; and although public offerings were decimated by economic conditions, they appear to be picking up again, Denney said. Both alternative dispute resolution and litigation were relatively strong in 2009 as well, he said.

He says the big news of the past year has been the shift toward using small and midsize firms and boutiques, which he expects to continue, the legal publication recounts.

As law firms shift from the “survival planning” of the past year and the layoffs and pay cuts suddenly proliferated, standard strategic planning will once again be the norm, he predicts.

Among the issues that firms may now wish to address: Diversity suffered during the past year, as a disproportionate number of women and minorities lost their jobs during a wave of layoffs, according to Denney.

Earlier related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Top Cravath Partner: Kill Billable Hour”

ABAJournal.com: “New ACC ‘Value Index’ Helps Clients Rate—And Share—Law Firm Performance Info”

ABAJournal.com: “Layoff ‘Herd Mentality’ Ignores Greater Savings of Pay Cuts, Prof Says”

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