John A. Lassey, a partner in Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, of Manchester, NH added a thoughtful comment to my post of March 12, 2006 about variable billing rates for the same lawyer, according to the usefulness of the lawyer’s task to the client.
Perhaps assignment of different rates based upon the Uniform Task-Based Litigation Support Code Set. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction. Another (lesser) approach might be to negotiate different rate schedules for different levels of difficulty for the matter as a whole. I.e., charge lower rates for matters for which the pool of competent counsel available is larger (e.g., “nail and board” or intersection collision cases) and higher rates for matters for which the pool of talent is smaller and/or the stakes higher (e.g., products liability or “bet the ranch” anti-trust litigation).
Ken Khoury, the new general counsel of Weyerhauser, speaking to the Corporate Counsel Section of the State Bar of Georgia in December 2005, recommends “outside law firms implementing gradations of billing rates, adjusted for seniority and expertise.”
The law department industry may see in the coming years various elaborations and experiments on nuanced billing rates.