Clock ticks on billable hours

To bill (per hour) or not to bill (per hour)?

That. Is the question.

In today’s shaky economy law firms are talking about (and implementing) alternative payment methods to the traditional billable hour as corporations and other clients are less able to afford the hourly fees.

The Washington Post reports that firms are using flat fees or contingency fees, which is when a firm and its client agree on a price and the firm picks up the difference if it ends up costing more.

A survey of 200 of the country’s biggest firms found 92 percent of firm leaders had used flat fees at least once and 82 percent had used contingency fees, according to The Post.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the billable hour is by no means dead among the richest of the rich. The Journal reports that the most expensive lawyers are charging even more per hour, with the top 25 percent of hourly billers charging 4.9 percent more compared to 2010. The average rate is $873 per hour.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, the lowest billers are only charging a 1.3 percent more than last year at an average rate of $204 an hour.

Noticed but nameless in The Wall Street Journal

“A Maryland newspaper.”

Really, The Wall Street Journal? You write about news The Daily Record broke, and you credit “a Maryland newspaper”?

What, your story ran over by a line so you had to cut out our name? Or maybe all your fact-checkers had the day off?

Or were you trying to be cute, since today’s article — “Anonymous Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury” — is, after all, about withholding names?

In the article, reporters Ashby Jones and Nathan Koppel use the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich as a news hook to discuss the practice of withholding the names and addresses of jurors.

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“John school” uses fear and shame to curb prostitution

Los Angeles has started an experiment aimed at curbing prostitution.

It’s sending men who get caught soliciting sex to “john school.” If the men submit to an HIV test, shell out $600 for the one-day class and do not have certain types of prior arrests, they won’t have to do the usual 15-day jail sentence that goes with the crime. If they don’t get caught again within a year, their file is closed. If they do, they get a longer sentence.

The program, as the Times’ headline implies, hopes to turn the johns away from soliciting sex by using fear and shame.

Police officers show them photos of bruised and battered johns who made a deal with a prostitute, only to find that they had been set up to be robbed. They hear (and, probably more importantly, see) the details on various sexually-transmitted diseases. The johns also hear from former prostitutes, who tell them that, despite what they may want to believe, hookers do not enjoy their jobs.

This sort of program is used in other cities, but not Baltimore, as far as I can tell. From this Examiner story, though, it looks like it is on prosecutors’ radar. I am trying to get in touch with someone who can tell me whether any further steps have been made in establishing the program here, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.

This old post from the blog Feministing does raise an interesting question about the concept: Is it fair for prostitutes to go to jail when their customers avoid it?

Thanks to WSJ Law Blog for pointing the way to this story.

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Lions and tigers and bears? Oh, my!

pantherThe Wall Street Journal has a great story today on offbeat lawyer advertisements and the ulcers they cause in state bar officials. From the piece:

But the Florida bar isn’t buckling. It filed a complaint in 2004 against Fort Lauderdale personal-injury attorney Marc Andrew Chandler over ads that featured a pit bull wearing a spiked collar. The Florida Supreme Court sided with the bar in 2005, ruling that pit bulls conjure up images of viciousness. “Were we to approve,” the court wrote, “images of sharks, wolves, crocodiles, and piranhas could follow.”

Despite these fears, the bar in 2006 approved the use of panthers, the mascot of Miami firm Panter, Panter & Sampedro PA. At least two other Florida firms have images of lions on their Web sites, so far without censure. That panthers and lions have been tolerated bugged the pit bull lawyer, who asked a bar official how the state could favor vicious cats over pit bulls. “I asked him, ‘What would you rather deal with, a pit bull or a lion?’” Mr. Chandler says, recalling a 2006 telephone call. “There was silence on the other end. I could hear the sound of crickets chirping in the background.”

If the folks in Florida find pit bulls inappropriate, how about bulldogs, like the mascot of our former gov.’s firm? (Womble doesn’t seem to have an office in Florida, which I suppose is good news for Winston.)

Not having cable, I rarely see lawyer ads on TV, so someone’s going to have to fill me in on whether any Maryland attorneys are using potentially vicious animals in their ads.

Also, are there any ads, animal-or-alien-containing or otherwise, that you’d like to see yanked?

What would be the least apropos animal mascot for a law firm? A basket of kittens, because lawyers shouldn’t be cuddly? A python, because no one wants a lawyer to squeeze them for all they’ve got? A possum, because a good lawyer shouldn’t play dead?

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

WSJ’s anonymous “Lawyer of the Year”

Akin to the American Bar Association’s “Lawyer of the Year” award, the Wall Street Journal last week asked its readers to nominate their most newsworthy lawyer of the year. Well, the results are in – but nobody seems to know who the person actually is!

According to the Journal, the “landslide” winner is “Loyola 2L,” (otherwise known as L2L) a law blogger whose claim to fame is beating “a loud and consistent drum of discontent around the Web by posting in online forums about the job prospects for graduates of nonelite law schools.”

L2L first appeared on the law blog scene about a year ago; from the moniker, the Journal speculates he or she was a second-year student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Many of L2L’s comments center on how law school rankings (Loyola is a tier-two school) play an unfair role in access to well-paying jobs upon graduation.

Although now presumably a third-year, L2L’s true identity (gender included) remains a mystery to the general public.

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