Long live the billable hour

Despite the enthusiasm for a fixed fee system, at least one lawyer is willing to admit the billable hour isn't going anywhere just yet
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For clients who want to protect themselves from outside risks and predict their total legal spend, fixed-fees are great, says Marie Henein, partner at the litigation boutique Henein Hutchison LLP. But in complex litigation, she says, the billable hour can be way cheaper than a block fee.

Think of a typical trial. Neither the firm nor the client, says Henein, can predict how long it will last, or what complications might arise. If a trial requires lots of overtime, the firm takes a hit. If the case is simple, the client overpays.

“Both parties, to a certain extent, are gambling,” says Henein. Which is why many clients Billable hour clocklike the billable hour, in all its unpredictable glory: it can save them a whack of money. And some clients try to get the best of both worlds, by negotiating hybrid fee structures that combine block fees and hourly billing.

“The bottom line,” says Henein, “is that hourly billing is alive and well and even preferred by many clients.”

For more on how to make your firm more efficient, read our roundtable, where six big-name lawyers gave us their take on how to make law work better.

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