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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Kill the Billable Hour

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Evan Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath where he was head of litigation, has rather unsubtly suggested that we all Kill the Billable Hour:

I’m a trial lawyer. I bill by the hour. So do the associates who work for me. I have lots of clients, so I can pretty much work, and bill, as much as I want. This needs to be fixed. Yes, you read that correctly.

I might be more inclined to believe that Chesler was on to something if he didn’t simultaneously brag of his exorbitant rates (“We don’t make numbers public at Cravath, but you can assume I’m not cheap”) and compare his work to that of “Joe the Contractor”.

So what am I proposing? 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. Once the price has been agreed upon, the billable hour should be irrelevant. The client will no longer be surprised by a whopper bill and met by the standard (albeit true) explanation that “litigation is unpredictable.”

The WSJ Law Blog interviewed Chesler in “I’m a Trial Lawyer. I Bill by the Hour . . . This Needs to be Fixed.”

Somewhere, someplace, once upon a time, somebody said to a client, “I’m going to charge you for each hour I spend on your matter.” And that client said, “OK.” And from that a seed was planted, and a tree grew. I believe it’s time to plant new a new seed.

I’ve written on this subject in previous posts, The Death of the Billable Hour, Wishing Does Not Make it So and More on the Billable Hour, Charting Your Own Course

I won’t be holding my breath.

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