Muir helpfully explained how much of today’s problems with hourly billing can be traced back historically to the ABA. Hell, according to Muir’s short history, up until 1969, the ABA Model Code, said it was unethical to “undervalue services.”
What a surprise! But then maybe, not. After all, who’s mostly to blame for today’s glut of law schools? And with oversupply, a tanked economy, and falling demand, the answer has to be “yes” to the question of “Too Many Lawyers?“ Also see “Personal irresponsibility and poor life choices” and “Lawyer glut but consumers do without anyway.”
Muir wrote, ” A 1958 ABA pamphlet contended that lawyers were bad businessmen in comparison to other professionals, the remedy being to better track time and to keep more detailed records. That pamphlet also suggested that lawyers work 1300 hours a year– or 5-6 hours @ day, five days @ week in a 48-week year.”
And it went on from there, so much so that in 2001, Muir says the ABA audaciously recommended of lawyers “billing expectations of 2300 hours annually, composed of 1900 hours billable to clients. . . .”
The monster still lives!
Ironically, it was also in 2001 when according to The American Lawyer’s Douglas McCollam writing “The Billable Hour: Are Its Days Numbered?” that, referring to then ABA President-Elect Robert Hirshon, he said, “No one has put more effort into trying to drive a stake through the heart of the billable hour.” Well the monster still lives!
Still, every so often, there are latter-day Van Helsings yet trying to chase down, corner and impale the billable monster. But such efforts have been abysmally unsuccessful.
Indeed, 5 years ago, Michael Downey wrote an essay, “Ethics and Time–Based Billing” – American Bar Association, which traced the underwhelming underachievement. Over the course of 40 years, billable hour targets at firms have moved from 1400 to 1600 hours per year to a point now where at some firms, anything less than 2100 hours billed per year can result in a pink slip.
Is it any wonder, then, that reform-minded lawyers like Richard A. Fogel – Billable Hour Ethics, legal ethicists, overworked young associates, and besieged clients (See, e.g., “Billable Hours Giving Ground at Law Firms”) have clamored for relief from the billable hour yoke?
Indeed, to stem the anxiety-inducing, billable hour-stressing, foreseeably-inducing ethical monkey-business, ethicists have gone as far as to advocate that corporate general counsels NOT hire firms that have annual billable hour thresholds for their lawyers.
So imagine the envy at law firms large and small over an incredibly hard-working professional who won’t ever be accused of slumming, bill-padding, ethical malpractice, or of pissing off clients or of “Fleecing the Golden Goose.”
Had he not been as smart as he clearly is with two master’s degrees and a prior life as a Wall Street securities VP, Allen Renz might have made the mistake of taking up lawyering.
But instead, he is doing something that many lawyers would find eminently more satisfying, working as “one of the busiest golf teachers in the United States.” I didn’t know there was a serendipitous intersection where billable time meets golf and lawyering.
Renz annually averages 2,200 hours of billable-lawyer-like time except he isn’t writing briefs, researching law, or taking depositions. He is instead teaching the finer points of putting, chipping, and hitting off the tee. And his clients love him. One student, Larry Klurfield, has had the same 8 AM Wednesday morning class since 2002. Yet another, Stephen Bernstein, has been taking lessons from Renz every Thursday at 7 AM since 2008.
And the guy has a work ethic that is a managing partner’s dream, working seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm in the summertime and “the wait for one of Renz’s prime-time teaching slots can be 10 months or more.” Golf writer Bill Pennington of The New York Times calls him “relentless” and the “Teacher of the Hour, 14 Times Daily.”