Ever been in a taxi in a foreign city, not speaking the language of the driver, not knowing the destination, watching the metre clocking up all the time? Not knowing if the driver is going the quickest way. You have your suspicions but are totally reliant on the driver. You pay a handsome fare. Invariably you find out later that you were taken for a ride. Bad taste. Well that’s how many people feel after instructing a law firm.
Solicitors are inherently conflicted between their own interest of profit making and their clients’ interest in concluding a legal instruction on time and on budget. That conflict will continue so long as the ‘billing’ system continues unaltered. The ‘clock’ as it’s known in the industry is the driver of this. It means that solicitors invoice their clients on the basis of how long they spend on the instructed matter. Not on how good the advice, strategy or project management is. Just how long they spend. So you can now understand why there is no incentive for solicitors who ‘bill’ their clients on this basis to be efficient.
Picture yourself as a client going to meet your solicitor in respect of a dispute you have. You want to know three things – prospects of success, how long will it take and how much will it cost. When I was a young solicitor I used to hear senior colleagues answer that last question with the counter question – ‘well how long is a piece of string’? No one instructing a solicitor should ever tolerate that type of answer. It’s lazy and utterly unempathetic.
Litigators are the most addicted to the ‘clock’. They are terrified of the concept of fixing a fee for fear of losing their shirts in a case. Big law firms exploit the clock typically using armies of young lawyers to spend weeks if not months sifting through discovery documents (very expensive part of any Court case) when technology is readily available to undertake the Discovery process at a fraction of the cost. But that’s conflict for you though.
So what’s the solution? Three suggestions: avoid litigators, insist on a fixed fee or hire an independent project manager.