Like most private-practice lawyers, I believed that we are principally hired for our expertise and skill. And that’s true. And certainly every law firm partner knows that clients are sensitive to fees. Now, as a general counsel, I can attest to that too. But I also now see that law firm partners implicitly assume—incorrectly—that apart from fees, the billing process is mere white noise to the lawyer-client relationship. They think of legal bills as the profession’s equivalent to the absurdly long drug-store receipt that we crumple up as we leave the store.
But that’s wrong. While expertise and skill are key attributes of the engagement decision, and fees rank as the foundation of a law department’s economics, the process of billing forms a key part of the experience of working with a firm. And while many savvy lawyers recognize that the experience of working with them—in terms of responsiveness or commerciality—form core elements of a firm’s relationship with a client, they are likely to dismiss the billing process as somehow extrinsic, a mere appendage to the relationship that represents the least interesting aspect of private practice that is best (and most efficiently) delegated to the firm’s specialized billing experts, who are often as unseen by partners as they are relied upon by them.
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