The billable hour is like Chicago’s Mayor Patrick Wilson in Michael Harvey’s excellent detective story and political thriller, The Fifth Floor: seemingly all powerful, in near total control, subtly but unmistakably menacing, unprovabley corrupt and yet increasingly vulnerable. Wilson is by no means all bad. He is smart. He knows what’s good for Chicago and he knows who the right people are and he knows how to make them happy and indebted and fearful. He also knows how to have those who don’t measure up or who get in his way fall from grace or disappear. Michael Kelly, Harvey’s immediately likable, principled, resilient and very tough ex-cop, describes Wilson this way:
Patrick Wilson was easy to like. He loved to smile, shake hands, and talk about “win-win situations” I believe that was the phrase he used just before they flushed my career as a cop. In the parlance of the Fifth Floor, Patrick was known as the velvet glove. The hammer stood just behind him.
How one views the billable hour depends on where one stands in relation to it. It is an oversimplification to say that lawyers want more and clients want less, but it is also an obvious and fair point to make. That tension creates pressure about which more in a later post. In light of the current economic uncertainty it is reasonable to assume that the economic pressure among lawyers in firms and between lawyers and clients will increase. Dealing with that pressure sensibly, honestly, fairly and forthrightly will be a significant professional challenge and obligation.