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3 Great Alternative Billing Methods

While both clients and lawyers continue to lament the limitations and drawbacks of the traditional “billable hour” method of charging for legal services, a few new methods are rapidly gaining popularity.   There’s just no question that we’ll see these intriguing techniques continue to enjoy increased adoption during 2011 and beyond.

1. Bill By The Pound. A cousin of the old “penny per word” method employed decades ago by novel publishers, billing by the pound is fair and extremely easy to implement.  Requiring only the purchase of a small scale, billing by the pound is completely objective and unassailable by the client. It weighs what it weighs – there’s no messy arguing over how much time was expended or the actual value delivered.  This method has the additional upside of being extra valuable to lawyers with undergraduate degrees in English, who can immediately monetize their immense vocabulary.   (Bonus tip: Eliminate defined terms for a few extra dollars.)

2. Ask A Friend. Not sure exactly what your asset purchase agreement on that $100mm deal is really worth to your client?  One terrific, simple and often overlooked way is to ask a bud.  Find a sharp friend, preferably someone who knows a little something or other about the subject matter at hand, and give her a call.  For example, corporate types might call an accountant and ask them to estimate the value of your personal contribution to the deal, and then be ready to back it up with some kind of obscure set of Excel calculations.   Settle a personal injury case?   Why not call your family physician, or if you can’t reach her – try your nephew in med school.   If you’re really in a pinch for opinions, hop on Quora, or Yahoo Answers, post on Facebook, or send out a tweet or two. You’ll be surprised at all the great feedback you’ll get.

3. Just Schwag It. Ok, let’s admit it. Sometimes there just aren’t any easy answers to the question: “what is this really worth?” It happens. Heck, how many times do you find yourself walking through a street art show, see a piece of art, and really wonder: that could be worth $10 or $100,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me either.   The answer is, a lot.   So sometimes, the reality of the situation is that you just need to take a deep breath, step back, and give it your best schwag. (Linguistics experts, like the former English majors, will spot the embedded “wag” in that term, literally meaning “wild a** guess” in Latin.) It’s not the best alternative, but sometimes it’s necessary and it comes with two distinct upsides: (a) it can’t be disproven; and (b) defending your schwag as though it had the precision of an MIT calculus dissertation gives you a fantastic chance to brush up on your advocating skills, a/k/a my “how to keep a straight face while I argue something completely preposterous” ability.

Of course, each of these methods is best used on April 1. ☺