Bye Bye Bartleby – Smart Work/Smart Billing

Smart Work/Smart Billing

The implications are stark and unavoidable: the hourly fee as the lodestar of what legal services are worth to the client is a thing of the past.  Hourly time keeping will remain important, even more essential, not as a measure of the true worth of the services to the client, but for lawyers to know exactly how long it takes to efficiently accomplish the underlying tasks, and to gear their fee arrangements to be paid a competitive fee for the true time it takes to accomplish them.  The Galley Slave Model of having numerous junior associates, paralegals and other minions serving as cash cows under senior attorneys profiting from their profligacy  is also a thing of the past. A new model is already replacing it with lawyers at all levels having to work smart and bill smart through greater personal efficiencies in delivering their legal services.    Lawyers across all practices, but especially in solo and small practices, must be lean and mean to survive in this new environment.

Technology is the Key to Smart Work and Smart Billing

It is of course, an indispensable part of a scrivener’s business to verify the accuracy of his copy, word by word.  Where there are two or more scriveners in an office, they assist each other in this examination, one reading from the copy, the other holding the original.  It is a very dull, wearisome, and lethargic affair.  I can readily imagine that, to some sanguine temperaments, it would be altogether intolerable. For example, I cannot credit that the mettlesome poet, Byron, would have contentedly sat down with Bartleby to examine a law document of, say five hundred pages, closely written in a crimpy hand.”

Bartleby, supra at 10.

Survival in the new economic environment requires that lawyers embrace, and not merely tolerate, or worse yet suffer, the new technologies that allow for automation of those facets of practice which can best be accomplished or streamlined by computerization and modern means of communication (e.g., email in place of phone calls or correspondence; teleconferences instead of in-person meetings or court appearaces; document scanning instead of hardcopy storage; computerized pleadings and other document generation and management – storage, sorting, searching, retrieval and presentation; time keeping and billing functions; online filing and service of documents;) freeing lawyers to concentrate on what is intrinisic to our intelligence, education and training — legal problem solving and troubleshooting.

This evolution will be especially powerful for trial lawyers, because the Galley Slave Ship model is uniquely unsuited for cost- effective litigation. “Patently, a six-pack system of handling litigation through the efforts of multiple lawyers each dealing with a relatively small segment of the project, produces added costs.  Yet excessive cost is not the only drawback of a multiple-lawyer system.  The lawyer who tries the case in court may often not know it as well as he should and may not present it to best advantage because he relied too much on the work and impressions of others. He may not be wholly familiar with the issues and pleadings, he may not have met important witnesses until the day of trial, or he may not be fully prepared to adjust to the vagaries and unexpected developments of a trial. M. Fleming, supra at 18-19.  “In trial work, the days of the medieval knight in full panoply, astride his armored war-horse, supported by squire, grooms, armorers, personal attendants called out to battle on all but the most trifling disputes, will vanish or be limited to a few set engagements.  The bulk of legal controversies will be handled by more agile infantrymen, operating singly or in pairs, lightly armed with personal computer, software programming and communications equipment providing immediate access to legal and factual data banks at home base, all at a greatly reduced cost to the client.”  M. Fleming, supra at 86 (emphasis supplied).

Stephen M. Winnick, Esq. is the founder and senior partner of Winnick & Sullivan LLP (www.winnlaw.com); and the developer of Summary Judgment™(www.summjudg.com), a comprehensive case and practice management software tool built on Eastgate Systems’s Tinderbox data platform (www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox).  Additional information about Summary Judgment’s features and operation is available in his prior blog series entitledWinvictus’s Summary Judgment – the Romero Case(www.winvictus.wordpress.com).

Copyright © 2011 Stephen M. Winnick, Esq.  All rights reserved.

 

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