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Lawyers as Collaborative Leaders – Back to the Future

Lawyers as Collaborative Leaders is a panel established by Lara Wentworth, a performance, and Wellness Coach for lawyers. Our CEO of Legally Yours and Board Member of ALTA Karen Finch was invited to facilitate a panel on ‘Old Fashioned Values’ and How They Apply to the Practice of Law Today. Along with Karen, John Chisholm, David Wells and Jennie Pakula were also invited to give commentary on this fascinating topic. The panel focused on what the practice of law looked like before time recording and billable hours and discussed what we can learn and possibly introduce when delivering legal services in 2021.

John Chisholm, Founder and Managing Director at John Chisholm Consulting, started the event by recounting some of the past values of the legal industry. As a third-generation lawyer he recounted the cultural change the billable hour introduced, such as the need to work longer hours to make more money for the firm. One of the notable takeaways from John’s discussion was his father’s policy of not sending a client an invoice without having first discussed it with them.

Unlike today when the billable hour is the only justification needed behind an invoice, the human element in traditional law practice saw client satisfaction as a pillar of providing legal services. Because of this human first approach, lawyers within their communities held an element of pride and respect no longer common in our industry.

Next up was David Wells, Director at Innovim Group. David was the Managing Principal at Moores when they made the switch from the billable hour model to value billing. David shared that despite Moores consistently getting clients positive results, overall customer satisfaction was weak under the billable hour model. Suffering from bill shock, even with positive results exoberdent legal fees tainted clients overall experience seeking legal services.

Thus, the Moores agreed pricing model was introduced. While this shift was not universally celebrated, for the most part David recounted the transition as being fairly smooth. Overall, the return to these traditional values by providing upfront prices was described by David as a more human way to practice law and is a decision David continues to support.

Jennie Pakula is the Manager of Innovation and Consumer Engagement at the Victorian Legal Service Commission. Busting the myth that billable hours are mandatory Jennie broke down the true meaning behind S 174 of the Uniform Law Act. Although S 174 may imply practitioners bill by time, Jennie explained that the section was constructed in response to the emergence of the billable hour, and in part was designed to counteract some of the issues raised by it.

Instead, invoices are able to be itemised by value as long as they clearly outline the work being done. Having read over 1500 complaints, Jennie noted the main issue clients are having with practitioners is that they’re perceived as being bad value for money. Currently 84.5% of people believe lawyers are too expensive to use.

In keeping with the other panellists Jennie also supported value priced billing, citing that practitioners need to be human beings, to their human clients, in their human situations.

The panel was wrapped up by Karen outlining the major takeaways of the event. If the legal industry is to resolve this branding issue, we need to take a more human approach to the practice of law. This means valuing lawyers for their work rather than their time, and treating clients using good ‘old fashioned’ customer service. Clients are more likely to access legal services if we have better standing within our community.

By incorporating these traditional values of respect and customer satisfaction hopefully we can shrug some of the negative stigma associated with lawyers today.

If you found this discussion interesting keep an eye out for more events run by Lawyers as Collaborative Leaders!