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Law Practice Management

Top Cravath Partner: Kill Billable Hour

Posted Jan 6, 2009 7:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Evan Chesler isn't the first prominent lawyer to make the suggestion. But his call, in a January magazine article, to kill the billable hour used by most corporate law firms as a basis for charging clients is bound to be influential because of his position at the helm of one of the most prestigious New York City-based law firms.

Neither clients nor lawyers like the billable hour system. It robs clients of control and gives attorneys the wrong incentives, rewarding them for long-running litigation rather than speedy success, writes Chesler, a Cravath Swaine & Moore presiding partner, in a Forbes op-ed piece.

The solution, Chesler says, is for lawyers to be more like Joe the plumber, Joe the electrician, and Joe the general home contractor. They should give the client an up-front price, building in leeway for the unexpected. They, if they win, they should be rewarded with a success fee—which also provides quality assurance for the client.

"For reasonable periods of time during the life of a lawsuit, say three months at a time, I should do what Joe does: identify the client's objectives, measure, calculate, build in a contingency and come back with a price," Chesler writes. Winning, not effort, he says, deserves the A.

Hat tip: The Am Law Daily

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Scott Turow: Ban Billable Hour"

ABAJournal.com: "Will Corporate Counsel Push Law Firms to Drop Hourly Billing?"

ABA Journal: "End of the Road for the ‘Cravath Model’?"

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