VeraSage Fellow Chris Marston Quoted in California Bar Journal

CEO and Founder of Exemplar Law Partners LLC Chris Marston was quoted in a January, 2008 article in the California Bar Journal: “Billable hours ‘intersect’ with the profession’s woes.”

The article discusses Diane Faber who lived the big law firm life for 16 years until she finally had enough. One of her colleagues said this to her regarding associates who didn’t pull their weight by putting in enough hours:

All of the galley slaves need to row at the same pace.

We always talk about the galley slaves on the SS Billable Hour, so this comment struck me. Do law firm leaders truly believe this is a sustainable model?

Chris is quoted saying:

It’s not greed that caused the billable hour to start, but greed is what it incentivizes, which is the problem, says Christopher Marston, CEO of Exemplar Law Partners. Law was a profession that was honored. Now it’s become much more of a factory. Counting your life in six-minute increments is no joy. It’s no way to live.

As if more evidence were needed, the online publication Slate has an article, The Scourge of the Billable Hour.

Once again, we see the fallacy that law firms will only change if they are forced to by their customers:

The criticisms lobbed by academics, associates, and bloggers have had a negligible impact. Making such a significant change takes a more powerful force in law firm life: the client. And now, finally, the companies that pay millions in hourly rates are striking back, forcing their law firms to cut some tough, nonhourly fee deals. If anyone can tame the billable beast, it’s the clients who feed it.

This is nonsense on stilts. Do law firm leaders truly believe they are not in charge of their own destinies? They are going to let their customers dictate how they run their businesses? This is an abdication of their most important function—the purpose and strategy of their firms.

It’s easier to foist the responsibility for change onto someone else, in this case the customers of law firms. But it’s not the customer’s job to innovate products, services, or pricing strategies. I’ve laid out the economic reasons for this in a prior post.

Of course, some companies are forcing their law firms into fixed prices, such as Cisco, Pitney Bowes, Caterpillar, among others. But this will not force a profession-wide change until law firms themselves adopt alternative pricing strategies.

Do law firms really want to be dragged around by the nose by their customers? I thought they were in charge of their own destiny? Maybe I’m wrong.

Good thing there are Pioneers such as Chris Marston willing to stick his neck out for a more sane economic model for the law firm of the future.

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