Pay for time hourly rates

Corporations have long complained about hourly billing by the law firms they retain, a practice that seems to reward attorneys for spending as much time as possible on an assignment. The subject comes up from time to time at law firms, too, with some already taking incremental steps away from watching the clock. Yet, especially for litigation, hourly billing has persisted as the primary way big law firms charge for their services. Now, Evan Chesler, the presiding partner at white-shoe firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, tells BusinessWeek he’s on a mission to “make the billable hour irrelevant,” even for lawsuits. Chesler’s proclamation is significant. Where New York-based Cravath goes, other elite firms often follow. And Cravath, Chesler says, is “trying more and more to come to alternative fee arrangements.” Typically, this involves charging a flat fee. The move isn’t recession-related, Chesler says, although he acknowledges that the idea “resonates much more now,” as clients try to adhere to tighter budgets. Cravath may be a winner, too, he says. “Ultimately it could be more profitable— if we are as good as we think we are.”