The billable hour has been criticized by many people in the legal industry, including me. But, from a business development standpoint, I’m not against the billable hour per se as much as I’m in favor of using alternative fees (fixed, blended rates, etc) to increase a law firm’s marketing advantage. That’s not entirely true; I am also against the hourly billing system because clients generally hate it. But I digress.

A story by Leigh Jones that appeared in the New York Lawyer Monday claiming the death of the billable hour (free registration required), may have just given 170-lawyer Ford & Harrison the marketing coup of the year. It has eliminated the associate billable hour requirement for first years in their firm. That will:

  • Please new associates (and aid recruiting),
  • Probably make clients happy (for reasons that aren’t spelled out. Certainly the work will have to be picked up by more expensive associates), and
  • Annoy competitors (for obvious reasons).

However, the jury is still out as to whether other firms will follow, or even if Ford & Harrison will continue the program after trying it for awhile. Although the firm has not discarded the billable hour system, by removing the requirement for first years, they may have allowed the camel’s nose to get under the tent. We’ll see.

Nonetheless, it is a gutsy move.