Florida-based bond finance firm Bryant Miller Olive has found success by focusing on clients, teamwork and retainer billing instead of the traditional billable hours structure. As more law firms consider different types of fee arrangements, BMO’s model is one that benefits both the client and the firm’s attorneys.
Historically, law firms have done their billing based on the number of hours worked each month. To reach the firm’s overarching financial goals, attorneys are often tasked with hitting a certain numbers of hours. And in some cases, this can unintentionally prioritize hours worked over the quality of work, and in the worst cases, this approach can encourage an attorney to get creative about finding more hours to bill to hit a monthly quota.
Instead, BMO attorneys focus on providing quality service to clients tied to a set retainer fee or a fixed fee based upon the facts and circumstances of a transaction. This prevents overbilling, provides budgeting predictability for both sides, and helps the attorney focus on quality over quantity.
“Some months a client gets more of our time than they paid for and some months it may go the other way,” says Grace Dunlap, Managing Shareholder at Bryant Miller Olive. “However, throughout the year we generally find that it evens out in the end.”
Other firms’ billable hour structures have also been known to discourage attorneys from seeking advice from their own colleagues within a firm for fear of going over a client’s budget. The retainer or fixed fee structure ensures that clients are benefitting from the entire firm’s expertise. In return, this helps junior attorneys develop by providing greater access to their colleagues’ skills and experience, while fostering a team atmosphere as attorneys come together to work on client projects.
But even when your day isn’t dictated by meeting goals for billable hours, is it possible for attorneys to achieve work-life balance in the age of texts, tweets and posts?
“Technology continues to be wonderful while creating the challenging impression of 24/7 availability for many clients,” said Dunlap. “Yet, despite carrying our cell phones everywhere, many BMO attorneys cite these fee structures as the driving force behind work-life balance.”
While the firm’s foundation is in bond finance and local government representation, BMO’s success has enabled growth by providing a wide range of other services to clients through BMO’s public private partnerships practice, real estate and corporate practice, litigation practice, and labor and employment practice.