22 Sep The Six Minute Unit Is Dead – Rethinking The Way We Practice Law
Let me put a question to you, why is it that in the fastest growing and developing time in history the provision of legal services remains lost in relics of the past?
The way legal services are provided gives the profession a bad reputation: the superior “know it all” attitude of lawyers, the lack of give and take between client and lawyer and the unexpected bills based on time measurements inherited from the 1950’s.
‘Value billing’ and ‘fixed fees’ are the catch phrases of some ‘innovative’ legal practices, but rarely have we as a profession fundamentally re-thought re-structured or re-worked the way lawyers provide their services. That’s one of the things we aim to change about working in the law.
Over the past 50 years we have seen the continual merger of law firms into larger more impersonal organisations. The larger these firms become the more they expect from their lawyers. In the developing world, we have been pumping out law graduates at an astounding rate and expecting them to spend their youth chained to their desks whilst dangling an evermore-distant carrot of equity partnership.
In addition, there is now an unprecedented level of competition in the legal market, with the pressure on lawyers to continuously justify their existence on monetary terms. Take as an example the private practice solicitor who has an inherent commercial conflict of interest. They have time-based budgets to meet and are incentivized to do more, not less work for their clients. It is the firm’s commercial success that is intrinsically linked to theirs, not their clients’ commercial success.
It’s clear the focus on such an outdated model is unsustainable in a new economy, where technology is fast replacing aspects of legal practice. It has also led to 1 in 3 lawyers suffering from anxiety or depression in Australia.
We use a new model: a hybrid private practice, providing “in-house counsel” type services to a select number of clients on retainer. This works for both the lawyer and the client. The lawyer can manage their workload and the client gets a lawyer that they are no reluctant to call for a cost they can control.
Over the years we have seen far too many good young companies come unstuck, because they have not been aware of the legal risks facing them. When you’re a smaller organisation you don’t have the time, money or inclination to focus on such things. It isn’t so important in the early stages, but as your company grows so does your legal risk. You begin to stick your head above the parapet, and become a target for competitors, customers and clients dissatisfied with you.
We feel that the best approach is prevention rather than cure, although neither is mutually exclusive. The in-house approach is best suited to prevention, but we will complete one off transations for fixed rates if clients require.
Our clients tell us that this new approach is helping them to improve their business and put them in the best position to grow. The traditional model of billing by the six minute unit, is just not working, so why keep persisting with it?
It’s a work in progress and one we will developing with our team and our clients in the forthcoming years. Our aim is for clients to look to their lawyer as a valuable member of their team, rather than an unavoidable cost or someone to go to only in a crisis.