Just below the fold on page one of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is a feature article titled “‘Billable Hour’ Under Attack.” Its authors, Nathan Koppel and WSJ’s resident law blogger, Ashby Jones, bring to the surface much of what has been increasingly appearing in the print and online trade press over the past eighteen months. The highlights are basically as follows:
- The downturned economy has exacerbated the already-existing dissatisfaction with the way that law firms charge their corporate clients.
- Some very large clients are using their leverage to drive reform.
- Some lawyers willingly comply with these reforms and have come to appreciate some of the attendant changes in their workstyles.
- Other firm lawyers maintain that the frenzy is largely ephemeral and that it will all be business as usual as soon as the economy bounces back to its mid-decade self.
- The numbers (alternate-model spending up more than 50% to $13.1B so far this year) suggest that an awful lot of toothpaste is out of the tube already and isn’t going back anytime soon.
Our thoughts? We think this nicely exemplifies one core Brightleaf tenet: that the consumers of legal services like the producers of those services and they like the product; they just hate the production. Clients don’t mind paying top dollar for direct interaction with their outside counsel. They don’t mind paying top dollar for the more strategic, knowlege-intensive portions of their invoice. But they perceive little or no value in the routine, repetitive, and process-based tasks that account for a huge chunk of almost every bill they get. Intellectually, deep-down, they may understand the necessity of some or all of these tasks, but that understanding is not the same thing as value perception. And when it comes to keeping clients happy about bill-paying–and keeping clients happy in general–value perception rules.