Thursday, March 04, 2010

Doing the math on my billable hours

Billable hours and billing strategies are all the rage nowadays. At least that’s what I am told by Above the Law or the ABA Journal or maybe the voices in my head are getting uppity again. In light of this, I wanted to take some time to break down how I bill out my time.

Looking at it objectively, it seems that my billable rate depends on the sort of case that I am handling:

Corporate Litigation Defense Client: These are clients that have done something wrong but will not admit to it. In fact, its your fault as the attorney that they did whatever they did. My normal billing rate starts at $250 an hour. Until the first bill is received and the clients flips a gasket for the $15,000 invoice. The partner steps in and assures the client that all of the bill is accurate and that all of the work is necessary. Client “renegotiates” my billing rate and my partner informs me to stringently bill the client for all action performed [e.g. bowel movement while writing brief (0.2)].

$175 an hour. With each bill paid three months past due. Without interest.

Corporate Litigation Plaintiff Client: These people are pissed off and aren’t going to take it any more. They want to crush the poor peon (usually someone that doesn’t have the corporate structure to hide behind) and do so no matter what the cost. We love these clients.

$250 an hour. Paid within 24 hours receipt of the invoice.

Insurance Defense Client: This is the definition of sacrificial defense: you are going to lose here, the question is how many zeroes get tacked on to the loss. The insurance company has concluded that they won’t can’t settle and litigation is the only option. They typically call us up about 28 minutes before a deadline, let us know about it and tell us to get moving. We get about four or five of these a year. Thankfully, we only get about four or five of these a year.

Contractually stipulated to $150 an hour. With every billing entry scrutinized and objected to. So, really, $115 an hour.

Even though Plaintiff’s personal injury work is done on contingency fee, we can still break down what we do on a billable scale. The numbers, they are telling:

Pre-Litigation Personal Injury Client: This inevitably will be one of two types of clients: one with a great case or one with a great injury but no case. Typically, you can get these cases done in 10 hours or less; but the bigger injuries typically take about twenty hours of time.

No case: -$250.00, a pissed off phone call with the client and a “you’re fired” letter sent certified mail.

Great case: $5,000.00 an hour. Unfortunately, these are few and far between.

In-Litigation Personal Injury Client: The vast majority of cases that I have proceed into litigation, past the fact witness depositions and settle on the eve of the expert depositions. These are always a lot of work and tend to settle for far less than you had hoped. There’s lots of lawyery stuff going on here: pleadings, discovery, motion practice and depositions. But the writing is always on the wall and this will typically settle

$275.00 an hour.

The Trial Date has been set Personal Injury Client: It’s a lot like the above client. Only there is more work, questionable liability and not a lot of damages. I find myself asking “how on earth did we get this client in the first place?” far too often. I also find myself being forced to talk to the client often because they continually call to check up on their shitty case. The client believes that their case is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, you believe that this case may be worth hundreds of dollars. The good news is that you are going to get trial experience. The bad news is that you have to waste your time taking this case to trial.

A finding for the Defendant: $0 and a stomach ulcer.

A finding for the Plaintiff: $4.27 an hour.