It’s like Counting Pickles ....

May 2001

by Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC

There has been so much emphasis on the "billable hour" as the big bugaboo, the reason for so much stress in our industry .. that I think we've lost sight of the real picture.

When I was in the pickle business, we did everything we could to produce more with less; we increased the speed of the line, we increased the size of the jar so more pickles could go in the jar faster, etc. We did this in order to increase inventory with the same cost dollars with the hope of selling it all ... and thereby increase our revenues.

Seems to me that that is what we're doing as lawyers; we're increasing the number of units we produce (billable hours) in order to raise our inventories/revenues. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. As labor unions did in the last century, lawyers/associates are now doing: complaining about the greater demands for production.

Sorry, but I see little difference between the two situations. Except that as lawyers, one would think we'd be smarter about how to create an environment that would allow us a bit more balance in our lives, be more effective and efficient for our clients, and still make a "reasonable" profit.

Leverage, billable hours, rates, etc. are merely tools to achieve the greater revenues. In my opinion, the firm that stays together as a firm, and is more than a "hotel for lawyers" can achieve the greater revenues and higher profits more easily and more quickly than other firms.

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May 2001