Although, competition in the legal industry is often cited for the reason for the push to alternative fee arrangements and away from fees based on billable hours the bottom line is that customers are now demanding more value for their legal dollars. As technology and globalization flattens the legal landscape customers are beginning to question fees and the work that they are being billed for and the courts and other regulatory bodies are listening to their pleas.
As a result of the demands by customers for more reasonable fees and the creation of alternative fee arrangements legal staff may find that there is more pressure placed on them to get more done in less time. Transitioning from a fee structure that is directly tied to the amount of time an attorney and paralegal spends on a matter to one that is based on an alternative fee arrangement can result in spending more time and incurring more expenses than what was initially anticipated and agreed upon. This situation can inadvertently lead to the creation of an atmosphere where poor work product, unethical behavior, and staff burnout thrives.
As law firms begin to transition to alternative fee structures billable hours by legal staff will continue to come under scrutiny. Attorneys and paralegals who are required to submit their billable hours and adhere to billable hour requirements may find that their billable hours and the work that leads to those hours will be under the microscope by clients, courts, and opposing counsel more than ever and may attempt to counteract the negative consequences by engaging in the following behavior:
- Submitting more billable hours than what was actually worked in order to appear to have outperformed other staff.
- Staff burnout as organizations place more pressure on legal staff to do more in less time.
- Cutting corners in order to get more done in less time.
With the dance between lawyers, clients, and the government to come up with a workable solution to the issue of what necessary and reasonable fees are and the inability of law firms to provide proof and justification for what some believe to be excessive fees this dance may not be coming to an end any time soon. In order to avoid poor work productive, unethical behavior, and staff burnout due to transitioning to alternative fee arrangements legal organizations must be proactive in implementing procedures and work product requirements that must be adhered to.