It sometimes seems that hourly billing has become the three hundred pound gorilla in the room for lawyers and their clients. With all the focus and drive for billable hours, it is sometimes lost on lawyers that their job is not to meet the 50-hour minimum per week. Clients are looking for outcomes. They have specific goals that they are willing to share with their attorney. They have a given amount of money to spend in order to attain those goals. Sometimes lawyers ignore all of these factors and simply work towards obtaining a retainer agreement and an initial down stroke of cash to bill against.
Lawyers need to become better at identifying client goals, seeing if those goals can be met within the client’s budget expectations and implementing an upfront strategy to attain those goals for the client. That upfront strategy should be shared with the client and the lawyer should be responsible to make sure the implementation occurs. We accomplish the documentation of goals and strategies to our extranet. The benchmarks we have set, and the tasks that we have implemented in order to attain those benchmarks are completely transparent to the client. A client can log on at any moment of any day and see who is doing what and why.
One of the great outcomes from our extranet has been a renewed focus on strategy and documentation of goals. In my old law firm life, I remember trying to think about such things. Sometimes I would create an internal document setting forth key information and benchmarks. However, those items were often lost in the day to day grind of ensuring that hours were being billed, paper was being processed and deadlines were being met. Oftentimes, the legal procedure side of the practice of law becomes dominate. When it does, lawyers are simply going through the motion and filing the paper that a court case expects a lawyer to file.
Our extranet, our paperless environment and our virtual worker program have allowed me to become far more of a quarterback and coach rather than a lineman, a receiver or a special teams player. Instead of trying to be a jack of all trades, I focus my energy on the true value which I can provide to the client. That true value is identifying reasonable goals, identifying budgets and putting a case strategy in place, which has a reasonable opportunity to attain goals.
I have to say that what I do know feels a whole lot different from what I did as a partner or associate at prior firms. Too many days, I felt like I was going through the motions. Too many days it felt like I was on defense. Any good lawyer can be swept up in the process of law if an appropriate business model is not implemented by the firm, which guarantees that a lawyer will have the time and resources to provide real value to the client in terms of strategy and documentation. Having a flexible workforce, in my case virtual workers, allows me to attain a much higher level of time and energy for strategic thinking on behalf of my client without the distractions of procedure or process getting in the way.