In a recent article by Karen Jackson that featured in the Law Society News, she talked about the typical large law firm and the unrealistic billing targets they set for their lawyers “which hang over them like the sword of Damocles.” In her article, Karen Jackson talks about the impact high billing targets on lawyers stress levels and ultimately their mental health but I would like to look at it from a different perspective. The client perspective.
I recently gave some employment advice to a junior member in a large firm, which I will call “Big Firm & Co.”
They had arrived at BFC from another large firm, and did not have a client following, but were immediately given a monthly billing target of £15,000 per month.
Somewhat unsurprisingly (if you are in this trade) it took BFC two weeks to train and arrange support and start to supply clients. By the end of the month, my client had only billed £5,000, and she was therefore already £10,000 down on her yearly target.
By the end of month two she had edged up to £10,000, and by the end of month three, she billed just over £13,000.
But to catch up with the deficits, and make an impression, she felt her effective target for that year was really somewhere in the region of £18,000 to £20,000 per month from then on.
Following our conversation, I did wonder what the effect of all this stress must be on the client relationship and the progress of their work.
The stress of being stretched to high billing targets is not only a feature for junior members. Senior members of large firms can also come under enormous and relentless billing pressure, particularly where the firm has a structure which gives them very large and inflexible overheads.
They may also experience further stress from political pressure and boardroom disputes.
In my view, the moral contract between a solicitor and client must be something like: –
- The client pays the fee;
- The client receives advice which: –
- Is only ever in their best interest;
- Is delivered with assiduous devotion to that interest;
- Is correct.
It is difficult to imagine how that equation can be properly balanced when the solicitor is under large external pressures, which must be all the more distracting if they emanate from colleagues.
The danger is the temptation to give the advice to fulfill the Solicitors’ needs, rather than what is in the client’s best interests.
The balance of the equation must be upset to a degree, depending upon the resilience of the solicitor delivering the service.
Does this ring a bell with any legal service users out there?
Have you ever been in a legal relationship where looking back, you realised that you received no real advice, perhaps only options, and were moved along a litigation “conveyor belt” feeling powerless to effectively ameliorate your situation?
Needless to say, we don’t work to high billing targets at Cato Solicitors. To find out more visit: About Us