Tag Archive: Finances

Lawyers again chastised for their billing!

 In a December issue of the Wall Street Journal, the headline implies that lawyers are making far too much money in a Delaware case. This, despite the unheralded reduction in their fee request. But, it’s easy too trash lawyers, and good headline writers (a special art in writing) are brilliant in getting readers to pick up the paper and keep reading …

 But, let’s look at the facts:

 First, the judge in the case said that the plaintiffs lawyers did an outstanding job, not just good, and such work should be rewarded. This is the same judge who historically penalizes lawyers when they fail to get results.

 Second, the agreement between plaintiffs’ lawyers and plaintiffs permitted counsel to ask the court for 30% and they applied for less, only 15%, not a normally outrageous percentage.

 Third, the risk reward element of contingency cases should be evaluated as of the beginning of a matter. And in this case, the risk of no recovery was substantial. Victory was, by no means, assured. Monday morning quarter-backing is always performed by those who have a corporate bias, have no interest in the matter and just want to carp, are jealous or, worse, feel  that lawyers should be heard, not seen. Reminds me of the criticism against lawyers who sued Ronald Reagan, as governor of California. Despite the fact that the lawyers won most, if not all, the lawsuits brought against the abuse by the State, neither the facts nor the victories was much discussed by those with a political agenda.

 Last, these arguments that the lawyers’ hourly billing rates were too high fly in the face of value billing, the new wave for corporate America. In other words, the results in this case were based on the value to the clients resulting from the effort and skill of the lawyers. In most cases, hourly billing results in higher legal fees … fees unrelated to the value received by the client … and fees that created certainty in the cost of the legal proceeding, an important factor to clients in most matters.   It’s important to know what the legal cost will be before embarking on a matter. Value billing provides this.

 Thus, the criticism offered by the writer in the WSJ is off target, to say the least.  Most criticisms against legal billings involve the hourly billings … here, value billing was requested by the lawyers and their clients and approved by the court. Hoorays should have been the proffered by the writer, not whining.

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More law firm departures announced – What’s typical?

Departures from large law firms continue. And more than one person is now asking what is the "normal" rate of departures? One estimate suggested 7%.

We are living in an environment that many people call a “new normal.” Our economy, as well as the legal community, has been turned upside down in the last couple of years. There is no ”typical” answer that has emerged yet. Departures are sometimes voluntary for better opportunities (or retirement) and sometimes involuntary where law firms are seeking to adjust their supply of lawyers with their clients’ demand.

As I mentioned in a recent interview in the New York Times, older lawyers are being asked to leave law firms when their productivity declines. That didn’t happen so frequently in the past. Generally, the age factor is only coincidental with the decrease in productivity. Though sometimes it is directly correlated because of a change in attitude by the experienced practitioner who wants to slow down and spend more time in other adventures. This tends to be a personal decision, not a trend. We have many lawyers in their 70s and 80s still active and capable contributors to their clients and the profession.

At the other end of the spectrum, newer lawyers who are not asked to become a partner in a firm believe their opportunities will be greater with another firm. They seek to make a lateral transfer from their existing firm to another one. The second law firm may accept them because they see a skilled practitioner, someone who received training at the expense of another law firm, who will fill a gap in their business model.  This comes when they want to grow and enhance their capacity for clients or begin a new practice area to enhance their service offerings for existing clients. The nes lateral fits well under these circumstances. 

Then, there are the new law school graduates who are finding the pipeline from education to practice being clogged up by the decrease in client demands and oversupply in some law firms. It will take several years for this phenomenon to adjust. Until then, I don’t think we can say there is a “typical” law firm departure rate.

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What makes a merger work?

A recent announcement touted the merger of two relatively large firms to make one larger firm of almost 800 lawyers. Why? One doesn’t know the real reason, the personal agenda of the moving players. But one can look at the outside and prognosticate the likely success of the merger. What are the characteristics that will help achieve success?

First, and foremost, is the culture. Do the firms think and act in a similar fashion? This is perhaps the most difficult characteristic to address because it’s subjective. And, in truth, sometimes different cultures can be blended, resulting in "new blood" being inserted into both firms creating a new, and revitalized "third" firm. But, a clear and conscious effort must be asserted. "Integration" is an overused word, but under-utilized activity in the merger field … without which there will be a collapse of the new entity. As said, it’s imperative that the leaders of both firms come together with an integration plan that is implemented with care and diligence.

Other factors can be more objective. Factors such as the differential in compensation levels and methodology, profitability and target clients are important when analyzing two firms. Another factor to consider is whether the rationale is to expand the services offered to existing clients or to enhance and make more effective existing services. Is this a sale of one firm to another? (Lawyers never speak in this language, so one must look at the economics to answer the question.) Or, is this really an amalgamation of two equal or nearly equal groups? The answer will determine the approach to be taken in putting the two together.

Mergers of larger service organizations are never easy … Ego always is a significant factor … and great effort is required.

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Managing Partners are few and far between

Bob Denney says "… “70% of the managing partners [or CEOs] do not have a job description and most partners do not know what their MP does. In addition, in firms of more than 100 lawyers, only 10% have full-time managing partners.”

No wonder that in 1995, the USPO concurred with me that "The Business of Law" was a unique phrase and granted my request for a registered mark. Major law firms still, as Denny confirms, require that "managing partners" maintain a full client load of billable time. There may be some concessions, but by and large, they are evaluated on their client production rather than their effectiveness in keeping the firm together and moving forward.

I think of the analogy with Lee Iococca. Though he was given credit for designing and producing the Mustang, he could no longer perform the design or product management functions in his position as CEO and later Chairman of Chrysler. How is it that law firms believe the managing partner (CEO) of a multi-million dollar professional service organization can do more than an industry giant?

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Succession is uppermost in the minds of majority of lawyers

More than 23% of the Washington State Bar Association, a mandatory bar, are 60 years or older. Several years ago, the American Bar Association, a voluntary bar, estimated that 400,000 lawyers would retire in the next 10 years.  For the ABA, that’s equal to its entire membership. And that’s equal to about 40% of all lawyers and a majority of private practitioners.


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Value billing in health care: Back to the future for law?

Insurance companies hire lawyers as in-house counsel at reduced (wholesale) rates, pay lawyers in accordance with insurance policies for their insureds, and otherwise have a dramatic influence over the billing practices in the legal community. Wasn’t it insurance companies in or about the 1960s that demanded lawyers submit bills that showed the time expended in matters for which they pay? And then, as a consequence, lawyers began using time increments as a basis for pricing, not just as a management tool. Before then, lawyers based their fees on the value received by the client.

Perhaps the insurance industry will, once again, have a dramatic impact on the legal profession, but indirectly this time. In Rhode Island, it’s reported that the Lifespan hospital group and Blue Cross have reached an agreement intended to overturn the way hospital care is financed. The goal is to promote and pay for health (value) rather than episodes (hourly) of treatment. Currently, when you go to a hospital, you pay (and the insurance company reimburses or pays directly) for your stay in the hospital, for tests performed and surgeries and related care. Does this remind you of the hourly bill that lawyers produce monthly (hopefully no less frequently?.

The agreement is the first to meet Rhode Island’s unique rules concerning health insurance policies and their premiums. Blue Cross, the largest health plan in the state, and Lifespan, the largest provider in the state, have agreed in principle (details yet to be worked out). The program will provide for fixed fees (alternative, or value, billing) for given procedures, thus discouraging tests and procedures that might not be needed – but usually performed because of insurance payments or attempts to make sure “no stone is unturned” in the treatment. Does this sound familiar? Performing more discovery than needed just to make sure “no stone is unturned” and to avoid an accusation of malpractice for failure to uncover the hidden evidence.

The hospital will be eligible for bonus payments when they meet as yet to be determined quality standards. Again, does this sound familiar? Bonus payments for faster resolution of the litigation, payment for results below the insurance company’s reserve or other standards determined by the parties. Almost sounds like a sport’s figure’s bonus payments when playing more games or hitting more home runs, etc. than set forth as minimums in the contract.

Increased and more effective communications and streamlining payment processes to increase the hospitals cash flow are also part of the agreement. Again, does this sound familiar? When lawyers have effective communications in place, it is seldom that the client is upset with the lawyer and it is seldom the client refuses to pay in accord with the engagement agreement, thus increasing realization rates for the lawyer.

Tying payment to quality care is available elsewhere, but to a modest extent and never before to an entire state. The insurance commissioner in Rhode Island is mandating change in connection with premium rate reviews. As they say elsewhere, “follow the money.” In this case, when customers demand change, suppliers change. Here, the review process for payment of insurance premiums and health care will change, not overnight, but quite assuredly … only because the customer (or regulator) demands the change. When will clients of lawyers finally say “enough is enough” and demand change? Until then, lawyers are not likely to alter current billing practices   

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Loan modification — Interview lawyers handling this practice area

I’m seeking to connect with lawyer(s) who either did or are currently doing loan refinance work for homeowners. In some states, the bar and/or legislature has created regulations preventing lawyers from taking money from clients for this work in advance of completing the work.


I’ve written about this and now have a major newspaper interested in talking with such lawyers to inquire whether such work is still available and how the lawyer is handling the fee.

Please contact me directly at edpoll@lawbiz.com


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Graduates vs. Big Law — The First Lawsuit Starts

I was wondering how long it would take? 

Sarah Martinez, a recent law school grad, broke the ice. She has sued Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco Superior Court for extending her an offer of employment, deferring it and now reneging, saying it didn’t have the resources to hire anyone in the near future. Among the counts alleged are racial discrimination, sex discrimination, and breach of contract.

While every case stands on its own facts and merits, it’s clear that Big Law will have to alter its offering policies in the future. The impact on law schools and those coming up through the grades is yet to be determined, but I suspect it will dramatically alter the economics of the future practice.

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Senior lawyers at risk

Layoffs in the legal profession have been in the news lately, but downsizing from the top?  More experienced attorneys, even senior partners in some larger law firms are not as secure in their jobs as they once were in what may be more signs of practicing law as a business.  Law.com bloggers and co-hosts Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams welcome Ed Poll, a recognized expert and author in law practice management and Stephen E. Seckler, president of Seckler Legal Consulting, to discuss the new benchmarks the legal profession is seeing in job performance and what The Business of Law may look like in the future.

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Layoffs abound at law firms

The American Lawyer brought us the "AmLaw 100," and more. Some blame Steven Brill, creator, for lawyers focusing on the business side of the practice. That would be an interesting discussion.

But, whatever one thinks about Brill, The American Lawyer has done it again. This time, on the negative side of the practice of law, layoffs.

Listing of firms and articles concerning layoffs is the first time I’ve seen this all in one place. Scary to think that there is so much of this going on that it merits concentrated press coverage.

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