Billing Reform

     To bill or not to bill. That is not a stupid question.
     Really.
     The New York Times last week published a blog asserting that hourly billing by lawyers is on its way out. Clients don’t trust the record-keeping, and even if you’re perfectly honest, billing by the hour doesn’t exactly encourage speed or efficiency.
     Fair enough, but what the blog failed to offer was a reasonable alternative. How do you properly bill a client if it’s not for time spent?
     Oh sure, contingency fees are possible, but you can’t have those for legal services that aren’t for plaintiffs in civil suits. Lawyers do too many things that can’t be easily priced.
     Fortunately, I’m here to help. Here are a few ways to earn a living as a lawyer without the burden of creatively explaining why it took 12 hours to fill out a complaint form.
     In-House Counsel: No, I’m not talking about lawyers on the payroll of businesses. I mean lawyers should move in with their clients.
     Housing and office space are two of the largest expenses all of us have. Why not avoid both of them by taking your fee in the form of room and board?
     It’s a winning formula for both lawyer and client. The client has immediate, round-the-clock access to counsel. The lawyer has snacks and a TV while the client goes off to work.
     And the incentives are obvious. No lawyer is going to want his or her client to lose their home.
     Subrogation: If insurance companies can pay off their policyholders and then stand in as plaintiffs, why not lawyers?
     What the lawyer should do is enter settlement discussions with his or her own client. The lawyer pays the client for the case and then files it as his own.
     A savvy attorney should make more with the complaint than he paid the client.
     This method has the added benefit of relieving judicial workload. No lawyer is going to pay for a complaint that doesn’t look profitable.
     Think of it as market quality control for litigation.
     A secondary market of derivatives can be established with law firms publicly selling shares of promising disputes. These should be traded in a liquid market as trials progress.
     What could go wrong?
     Spousal Plaintiffs: If you’re going to file a class action, why not file it on behalf of your spouse or a close relative?
     There’s no reason to simply wait in your office for some stranger to walk in with a consumerist gripe. Send family members out into the world to discover annoying things that can be made into class actions.
     Yes, I know there are already lots of people out there doing this. I’m just spreading the word.
     Spousal Plaintiffs: No, I’m not repeating myself.
     Well, yes I am, but the phrase has another meaning: Marry your clients.
     Rather than negotiate a fee with your client, ask him or her to marry you.
     This may not sound romantic, but consider the advantages.
     You’ll have the opportunity to really get to know your client.
     And any return you get on your litigation can go into your joint accounts and be shared in your divorce settlement once the legal work is done.
     Serve Food: No, I don’t mean free snacks and coffee.
     Serve full-course meals, complete with wine and cheese trays, during all meetings with clients – and charge for the service.
     That way even if your litigation or tax advice doesn’t work out, you’ll still profit from your culinary efforts.
     Associates with sous chef skills will have a big leg up on their competition.

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