A mentor of mine, who is also an attorney, once told me he billed nearly 2000 hours that year – 0.2 hours at a time . . .”  Do the math there.  That amounts to 10,000 separate time entries over the course of a year.  Do a little more math and you start to see how burdensome and annoying this type of revenue structure can be for a legal professional, let alone for the client on the receiving end of that bill.   Now I’m sure he was exaggerating a little for effect but for many attorneys that manage a large portfolio, have others working on their teams, or are just engaged in a lot of projects and work product review, this is not too far off from the truth, at least on some days.

A New Years Re-Resolution

Over the last few years I have been slowly moving my clients and individual project work load over to some form of fixed fee or subscription styled billing.  Whether that is a price per project, subscription styled engagement, fixed fee for basic services, or another form of “your invoice only has one entry” type of billing practice, I haven’t encountered anyone (lawyer or client) that wants to go back to the 1950’s styled hourly billing scheme.  But, as a testament to how ingrained this type of billing scheme is new clients inevitably ask for my hourly rate.  This is the canned response I have been giving in return recently:

“While I do have an hourly rate, I really can’t stand keeping track of my time, so my goal is to always work with you for a fixed price for any particular project that you may ask me to work on.  Absent unusual circumstances, that fixed cost will include all of our firm’s time, including any and all emails, phone calls, texts, reporting, follow up, occasional employee training, hikes in the woods, bike rides, ski days, etc. in order to complete the project and keep you informed about the result in the future.”

For those clients where we are constantly performing maintenance, monitoring or general portfolio administrative services, we have been able to lump all of those individual entries into a fixed quarterly fee.  I never think about logging time for these clients and I likely save several hours a week in administrative burden.  Plus, the relationship naturally becomes better.  Clients don’t worry about calling or emailing with questions.  Budgets are easy to predict and are constant throughout the year.  Communication is more authentic and potential legal problems surface before they become actual problems because no one is afraid to talk to the lawyer . . . Plus this creates space to actually develop a relationship that is more meaningful than most attorney-client relationships and it encourages true productivity across the firm rather than an incentive to just work more.

Related – From Design Engineer to Patent Attorney

So here is my re-resolution.  For those of my clients who haven’t shifted to this model I challenge you to challenge me to make time based billing a thing of the past for you.

Productivity Versus Busyness 

This is the first section of our Firm’s Employee “Playbook”:


Work Philosophy

Work as professionals and we will treat you as professionals, regardless of your title or assigned duties.  Be efficient and look to avoid inefficiencies.  Look for opportunities to reduce waste and improve our processes.  Don’t make work for yourself to stay busy and don’t assume we know how busy you are.  Busyness is not a virtue, it’s an error in perspective.  It’s easy to think that quantity of activities is quality.  Offload things that are, or have become, below your skill set and look for ways to grow and improve.  Don’t assume your manager or the partners are experts in everything, that’s why we hired you.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew and don’t oversell your capabilities.  Cry uncle before things get out of hand and we will support you.

In other words, don’t do this:

(Note – This is, of course, not my original artwork but I can’t remember where I got it.   So, I give credit to wherever it came from.  I know, I’m an IP attorney but give me a break, it was only put into our internal employee playbook as a joke)


Yeah, I know, everyone talks about working smarter and not harder but the legal profession is notoriously old school in this realm and lawyers are creatures of bad habits.  I know lawyers who still write their time down by hand only to have an assistant enter it for them later.  Really?  Doesn’t everyone have a custom coded time keeping system particular to their firm’s unique situation that allows infinite flexibility in how invoices are formatted, project costs are tracked, lawyers are paid, AR is reconciled, and the accountant’s books are managed?  Well, we do.  

As lawyers, particularly technology lawyers in 2021, we must be technologists as much as legal professionals.  Understanding and being able to embrace, master and use technology yourself as a part of your day to day practice in order to make your work product more deliverable is crucial.

Lawyer as Technologist

Attorneys in the modern age need to be masters of the technology they use.  Not just because it’s the 21st century and we need to know how to navigate the technology we use and that is constantly evolving, but because an efficient and profitable practice that can pass that value proposition on to their clients demands it.

From automatically generated reporting letters and brand monitoring reports to the use of artificial intelligence systems to help draft documents and even patent applications, embracing and actually implementing sophisticated systems to both run a law practice and create work product is required in a 21st century legal practice.  Sure, you need to understand the law, be able to provide strategic advice, issue spot, edit documents, etc. but to be an attorney, and particularly one practicing in technology law and intellectual property, that is just the price of admission.

Related – What Lawyers Need to Know About the Use of Artificial Intelligence

In that way we find our practice at an interesting intersection of being a legal services firm and a technology company.  That custom coded billing and timekeeping system we have – everyone in the firm knows how to use it.  So when I need to know status, totals, or other data about a client’s project I just log in and push a button.  No assistant, no accounting group, no waiting.  I often run those types of reports in real time while on the phone with a client.  Many of our firm systems are set up the same way.  And when a client reaches out directly to one of our paralegals or our office manager, they can get them the same information.

Empower Everyone Because Everyone is Smarter Than You

True value based productivity doesn’t come easy in a professional services environment where the major limiting factors to increased revenue has for a long time been the number of hours in a work day and your hourly rate.   It takes getting used to not immediately logging time for a client call and trusting that the alternative billing scheme you have set up is going to fairly compensate you nonetheless.   But come on, that’s just different math.  Firm wide policies like unlimited vacation, non-hours based goals, rewarding productiveness and not busyness all help in creating the eventual firm-wide philosophical shift that is needed here.  

And never be afraid to show that someone else is more capable than you or better suited to handle a high level task.  When that client reaches out directly to your paralegal instead of you for answers on their portfolio or a project?  That’s a compliment to everyone on your team, not a threat to your workload.

So challenge me and challenge your other attorney to make this shift.  And if you do have another attorney, let’s talk . . . 🙂

Sign up for our newsletter

Keep Reading: My Brush with Big Law Burnout