Law firms and clients for years have treated alternative billing (a.k.a. NOT hourly billing) much like a junior high school dance. At the Junior High Dance the boys stand on one side of the room and the girls on the other. Each side talks about how they would like to dance, but when it comes to stepping up and asking someone to actually dance, they shy away.

In this instance, the law firms might be likened to the boys at the dance, bragging about how they can provide alternative billing, but never crossing the room to initiate a dance. Meanwhile the in-house counsel are like the girls, wanting to utilize alternative billing but standing and waiting for someone to ask them. Perhaps both sides have just been waiting for the right song to come on.

Well … maybe that song just started and it’s called The Cost Cutting Hop.

Like the Junior High Dance, I figure it will be one or a group of the girls who actually force the issue and cross the room to get people dancing. That group in this case is the ACC. In September the ACC initiated the Value Challenge.

The Value Challenge states the Problem as:

ACC believes that many traditional law firm business models and many of the approaches to lawyer training and cost management are not aligned with what corporate clients want and need: value-driven, high-quality legal services that deliver solutions for a reasonable cost and develop lawyers as counselors (not just content-providers), advocates (not just process-doers) and professional partners.

At another time this kind of effort might be written off as more talk about “dancing.” But this time the music has changed. The Recession (now official) has brought tremendous pressure on GCs to control and cut costs. And guess where they will go to do this? Across the dance floor to their outside counsel is my guess.

Like the school Principal who has been waiting with anticipation for the students to get going, this will be a relief to finally witness. Alternative / Value Billing has the potential to help clients control costs AND help law firms improve their profitability. In future posts, I’ll start covering various alternative billing approaches, their pros and cons, and the how firms and clients might embrace them.