We are fortunate to welcome Stephen E. Seckler, principal of Seckler Legal Consulting, as a guest blogger. Stephen is an attorney coach with twenty years experience in consulting with lawyers. (Stephen’s full profile is available at his website.) Stephen maintains his own main blog, Counsel to Counsel (twice named to the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100 List), as well as having established The Middle Office blog. Stephen will contribute his thoughts to the LOMAP Blog in the form of a series of posts covering “The Solo and Small Firm Advantage”, the first installment of which appears below, and addresses the application of alternative fee structures.

. . .

The legal profession is in a tremendous state of flux right now. Large law firms are cutting expenses left and right in order to maintain partner profits. Business clients are challenging high billing rates and questioning the whole premise of hourly billing (where the incentives are for lawyers to bill as many hours as possible on a project).

While some large firms will undoubtedly adapt to these new realities, in truth, these market dynamics present a great opportunity for small firm practitioners. Right now, the market is very receptive to lower legal fees and alternative ways of doing business. While small firms may lack the depth and breadth of experience that larger firms possess, small firms also lack the bureaucracy that makes change difficult in larger organizations.

As a sole practitioner, you can wake up in the morning and decide to begin charging clients on a project basis. By the same afternoon, you can be implementing the new strategy. One day later, you can decide that project-based billing works for some of your matters and not others (or that a blended rate is what makes most sense in a particular case). You can also look for ways to cut costs once you start charging according to projects. For example, you can outsource litigation document review to a lower cost provider, and instead focus on the higher level strategic parts of a case.

In short, a sole practitioner can be more nimble than a more established law firm. If you continue to experiment with the way you charge for your services and staff your cases, you will gain the attention of consumers of legal services who are hungry for an alternative to the billable hour. This is your competitive advantage. It is yours to exploit.

. . .

For more on alternative billing, check out Jay Shepherd‘s consistently impressive take, memorialized at his excellent blog, The Client Revolution.