Lawyers Adopting the Ostrich Pose?

Our VeraSage colleague John Chisholm, fearless lawyer from Down Under, wrote this open letter to Australia’s Law Societies and Institutes.

John is also a talented illustrator, and I shamelessly stole one of his drawings to include in my forthcoming book.

Here’s the letter John wrote:

In recent times in Australia a whole raft of eminent people from the heads of judiciary in several jurisdictions, a number of prominent corporate counsel, the overwhelming majority of young lawyers who detest being made to account for every 6 minutes of their day (and night), the legal press, the Victorian Attorney General, and now the Federal Attorney General have been calling on the legal profession to reduce—if not completely eradicate—its addiction to time based billing.

About the only organisations in the legal arena who keep silent on the issue (apart from most law firms) are the lawyer representative bodies such as Law Council of Australia and the state law societies, the practice management vendors that make their living from timesheet entries, and the legal consultants who perpetuate the “$ x hours” leverage model as best practice.

Is it not just a little ironic that the various Societies and Institutes who promote and support reducing the costs of accessing justice and upholding the reputation of lawyers in the community fall silent on time based billing?

Do they honestly fail to appreciate time based billing is a major contributing factor to the burdensome costs of accessing justice and the diminished reputation of the legal profession?

Even if such esteemed organisations do appreciate this they are horribly conflicted by their role as the Union of the legal profession which means anything that could possibly diminish the financial returns to its members cannot be supported.

With all the above vested interests working overtime, coupled with the innate conservatism of our profession, is it any wonder, notwithstanding the pent up demand for change and the irrefutable business and social case for its demise, the profession clings to time based billing like a baby suckling from its mothers breast.

Yet at sometime the baby has to be weaned!

Is the majority of the profession going to wait until governments or clients force us to change?

Governments can force the change if they wish to two ways—by bringing in yet another set of regulations and/or use their considerable strength as purchasers of legal services to force law firms to move away from time based billing.

What a shame and what a blight on our profession if this is how it is going to come about when we could quite easily change ourselves and at the same time recapture some of the moral high ground we have clearly lost since time based billing was introduced for the betterment of future generations of our profession and our clients.

I am sure that by adopting the ostriche pose the world (or such of the world as you can see and hear under sand) appears calm and safe. Only trouble is you cannot see what is coming your way until it actually hits you.

I’ll be back in Australia with John for the first couple of weeks in October, spreading the word and hopefully getting more firms to abandon the billable hour.


  1. “Is the majority of the profession going to wait until governments or clients force us to change?”

    Not that I would advocate government regulation, but the fact that this is even raised as an idea is wild.

    I have often used Ron’s gedanken of “What if the billable hour where made illegal?” in sessions much to the dismay of the participants who then come up with such crazy responses such as:
    * Actually talk to our customers to understand their needs
    * Understand the actual scope of work BEFORE we begin.
    * Break projects down in smaller, more understandable chunks
    * Educate our team better in understanding changes to the scope
    * Set a price
    * Actually become real leaders.

    An outrageous set of expectations to be sure!

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