This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office New York attorney, Vivian Sobers wonders why lawyers are so tight-lipped about their billable hour rate.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “the thin blue line”?
Well, as Law & Order SVU (dun dun) explains, it represents a less than willingness to provide specific details about a fellow police officer, especially if the details would implicate the officer in a negative way.
Lawyers stand behind a “thin green line”.
Attorneys are kind of old-money, in the way that they do not want to talk about money. Sure, many of us want to brag at a networking event about how insanely busy we are and how we just don’t have the bandwidth to take any more clients (even though the phone is ringing off the hook). But, ask an attorney what their billable hour rate is and you will encounter downward glances, unnatural feet shuffling and a closed body stance.
It’s an impenetrable thin green line.
My mother and father imparted many life lessons to me during my formative childhood years. The most emphatic of which was: Ladies never talk about money.
I want to apologize in advance. I may be a woman, but the rest of this blog will be decidedly “un-ladylike.”.
What is my hourly rate?
I charge clients $350 an hour for my time. There, I said it.
My billable hour was not always $350. And here lies the problem with the thin green line.
Unlike other attorneys, I started my law firm with zero experience practicing law. Sure, I had worked in law firms for over 10 years as a paralegal, but I never had the experience of standing in front of a judge and advocating for a client. One detriment to starting a law firm without previously working as an associate is that you really have no idea about what you should charge per hour.
After passing the bar and deciding to start a practice, I figured I could just ask around and find out what other attorneys were charging per hour. That did not work as well I had hoped. Most of the attorneys I knew would give a ball park range instead of a concrete number. Even worse, the range was much higher than I had anticipating charging clients.
My hourly rate included my insecurities.
My biggest problem was that I projected my insecurity onto my hourly rate. I mean honestly, who in the right mind would pay $250 an hour to an attorney with little actual legal experience who had a virtual office? In my mind, I felt that charging a high hourly rate was cheating clients. In reality, I was uncomfortable with myself and my abilities and therefore devalued my true worth.
I arrived at my first hourly rate by calling a previous employer. He worked out of upstate New York and after some gentle cajoling, reluctantly volunteered that his hourly rate was $200 an hour.
I figured that just by being located in New York City, I could definitely charge more than someone whose office had a view of the Canadian wilderness. I added $50 to the upstate rate and came up with $250.
The problem with an attorney’s hourly rate is the fundamental arbitrariness of its creation. I used to think that a $500 an hour attorney was significantly better than a $300 dollar an hour attorney. But, I know better now. Perhaps they just are more confident in their worth.
The thin green line …
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Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.