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DC Firm Ditches the Billable Hour: Will Others Follow?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on January 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lawyers at a lucrative Washington, D.C., law firm have a new reason to celebrate this New Year's Day. That's when a new policy kicks in for their practice group, bidding bye-bye to the billable hour.

And it's not just billables. Members of Holland & Knight's public policy and regulation group -- i.e., lobbyists -- will no longer have to keep track of their time at all, The Washington Post reports.

"We'll be the first national firm that will have decided not to use the billable hour framework for a major practice group," an H&K manager told the website Politico. "I think if you look out 10 years, this will be a very large trend ... and we could either lead or follow."

The billable hour ban affects about 200 client matters for members of the firm's lobbying team, many of whom are lawyers. Most have years of legislative experience working on and around Capitol Hill.

But when legislative aides feel like it's time to move on, law firms are often at the bottom of their career-consideration lists. Many candidates cite law firms' billable hour requirements as a big drawback.

That's why Holland & Knight, which boasted $13.8 million in lobbying revenue this year, decided to do away with billable hours after 18 months of consideration, The Post reports. H&K's clients will still pay a retainer for lobbying work; each lobbyist will get a cut of that revenue.

Headhunters say Holland & Knight's billable hour ban could bring changes to other D.C. firms, and perhaps start a trend outside the Beltway as well.

"This has the potential to be a real game breaker in law firm recruiting because it opens up a new vein of talented folks who have previously shunned law firms like a fruitcake at a Christmas buffet because of the billable hour," one recruiter told Politico.

The trend may already be underway. Three lobbying firms and one law firm in D.C. have also done away with billable hours, the ABA Journal reports.

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