Editor's Note: The following is a sampling of letters regarding Steve Briggs's article entitled "The Pernicious Ripple Effects of Unrealistic Billable-Hour Expectations," published as a CBA President's Message to Members in the March 2005 issue at page 21.
Enjoyed very much your article on the Effects of Unrealistic Billable Hour Expectations in the March 2005 Colorado Lawyer. Well done and well stated. It prompted me to action. Thank you for this contribution and all your service as Colorado Bar President. May this message be shared often.
I wanted to take a moment to congratulate you on the recent Colorado Lawyer column on unrealistic time/billing expectations. As you know, I study the future of the profession, and ever since the initiation of the hourly billing schema (thank you, accountants), we have lost sight of both reality and value of the legal services provided.
In any number of litigation matters in the past several years, I have encountered opposing counsel firms who are clearly churning hours. While that is a matter between the firms and their client, it is damaging to the perception of the profession.
You raised a significant issue—I hope that my reaction was one of many in support of your journey back to the future.
Phil J. Shuey
Dear Mr. Briggs:
You have certainly identified one of the factors that has led to the degradation of the legal profession.
I think one of other factors is the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing advertising. It puts the legal profession squarely in the category of a business rather than a profession. It’s not surprising that lawyers receive as much respect as used car salesmen when one views some of their TV and phone book ads. No amount of good works or community service can overcome these negative images. I am dismayed that some law firms have marketing departments.
The Denver Bar Association recognized my 50 years of practice last year. When I began practice, a lawyer was a member of an honorable profession. That is no longer how the public perceives lawyers.
Since we can’t turn back the clock, I don’t know that there is anything the bar associations can do to restore the perception of lawyers to one of honor.
Dolores B. Kopel
What a good President’s column in the last Colorado Lawyer! I read it with particular interest. My family has employed the same attorney for the last 45 years (believe it or not) and he has helped guide us through all sorts of issues. He has the sort of judgment that comes not only from maturity and experience but from a conviction that he isn’t simply a technician—he is a counselor in the fullest sense of that word. His son followed his footsteps into the law, but instead of building a similar practice, he ended up working for Jones Day in New York doing IP work (without making partner). Three weeks ago, he fell over dead of a heart attack on a subway on the way to work—at age 47. Your column captures intellectually the frustration I feel at the system we, as attorneys, have created that results in the sort of stress that causes 47-year-old fathers to die in subway trains.
Your column about the unrealistic expectations of billable hours is RIGHT ON! You wrote about something that has been bothering me for ten years, and I have seen all of the "impacts" that you describe in your article. Thank you for raising this issue with the bar. I hope it will at least generate some discussion.
Jane G. Ebisch
Dear Mr. Briggs:
My name is Paul M. Strohfus. I am an attorney who practiced law in Colorado from 1982 to 1990. I currently am a Senior Vice President of Universal Underwriters Ins. Group in Overland Park, Kansas. I have been an inactive member of the Colorado Bar for many years. In my capacity with Universal I oversee Claims, Underwriting, Risk Management and Reinsurance. I have 300 adjusters and 500 inside and outside attorneys whose work I am responsible for. In my career I have devoted over 10 years to strictly litigation management positions.
Your article in the March Colorado Lawyer was very impressive. It not only was completely accurate, it took courage as President to share with your members a message they probably find uncomfortable. I have been lecturing on related topics to various groups for years and have always maintained that if law firms had a 1,500 hour billable standard we could eliminate our audit programs and quite possibly increase hourly rates. Files would close earlier and insurance companies would experience a related drop in average indemnity. This is true because it is well established that shortening suit life drives down indemnity costs. This would go a long way toward restoring the Insurance/
Defense Bar "Partnership." . . .
I have, therefore, started the process of requesting the right to use and quote your article when I speak at forums, to my staff and to my attorney panel. It bolsters, clarifies and adds credence to the message I have been sending to all of these. I hope you will agree to allow me this access and together we can struggle to reinvent billable practices.
Paul M. Strohfus
Overland Park, Kansas
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