Chesler '75 calls for the demise of the billable hour in Forbes op-ed

Chesler '75, presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, calls for the demise of the billable hour in Forbes op-ed

In an op-ed for Forbes, Evan Chesler ’75, the presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and a nationally known litigator, calls for the end of the billable hour, an idea that could gain traction in the current economic environment in which many clients are balking at what they see as exorbitant hourly rates.

“The billable hour makes no sense, not even for lawyers,” writes Chesler, who is a University and Law School trustee. “If you are successful and win a case early on, you put yourself out of work. If you get bogged down in a land war in Asia, you make more money. That is frankly nuts.”

Analogizing attorneys to building contractors, Chesler recounts that when he hired a contractor to renovate his kitchen, they determined the value of the project and agreed on a set price. When the job was completed ahead of schedule, Chesler paid the contractor a bonus.

He proposes a similar system for law firms where for reasonable periods of time during the life of a lawsuit, the client’s objectives are measured, contingencies are built in, and the firm arrives at a price that can be periodically revisited given the unpredictability of litigation.

Clients can be assured of quality through a success fee. “If I win, I should be rewarded,” Chesler writes. “That’s not only fair. It places the incentive where it belongs. It doesn’t suffer from the soft idea that effort, even unsuccessful effort, should get an A. Winning is what deserves an A.”