Downturn's Latest Victim: the Billable Hour

Long a legal standard, clients are saying no to lengthy litigation
By Clay Dillow,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2009 11:58 AM CST
It was good while it lasted, but the economic downturn may lead to the end of the billable hour for lawyers.   (AP Photo/Pool, Myung J. Chun)
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(Newser) – Might the billable hour—long the standard of measure for legal services—be on its way out? Law firms are rethinking their business models as the economic crisis makes clients more demanding, the New York Times reports. Firms are experimenting with alternative payment methods such as flat fees and percentages of money saved by successfully defending against lawsuits.

Critics have long complained that charging by the hour is inefficient—why should lawyers hurry to wrap up problems?—but the tough economy seems to be advancing the argument. “This is the time to get rid of the billable hour,” said a partner at a New York City firm whose top lawyers charge $800 for 60 minutes of work.