Slaughter and May has modified its billing practices to embrace discounts and fixed fees, as in-house lawyers hike the pressure to abandon hourly rates.
The firm now mainly uses ‘value billing’, whereby an estimate is agreed on based on “realistic assumptions”, according to a partner.
Slaughters executive partner Graham White said the firm had always offered alternatives to billable hours, but admitted that the use of fixed fees had increased in recent months.
“We’ve just responded to what clients have asked us for,” he said. “The model of many City firms was, for a long time, to agree fixed hourly rates. I think in-house counsel have realised over the last couple of years that it’s not necessarily the most efficient model.”
Slaughters has also adopted a new approach to discounting, for example by offering lower rates for deals that fail to complete.
The general counsel of one Slaughters client said: “Historically they were unwilling to discount their fees or enter into risk-sharing arrangements. They would appear to have modified their approach.”
Slaughters has always shunned the hourly rate, preferring to bill based on the ‘value’ of its services, but agreeing fees in advance is a new phenomenon.
In October 2008 the firm won a place on ITV’s fixed fee-only panel, the first to be made up of firms that do not charge by the hour.
Hourly rates have long been a source of frustration for in-house lawyers, who complain that the costs can spiral out of control. One senior in-house lawyer said: “It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I think it’s still possible to use fixed fees for almost every piece of work.”
Berwin Leighton Paisner has followed Slaughters in reviewing its fee structure and is now offering clients a ‘menu’ of pricing options, including fixed fees and risk-sharing, under which rates are determined by the success of a transaction.
Managing partner Neville Eisenberg said: “There’s an increasing interest in aligning our pricing structures with the risk profile of deals.
“It’s traditionally been useful on transactional work, where at early stages it’s not always clear that it will close. But it’s something we’ve been extending out more broadly and being more proactive about.”
Additional reporting by Luke McLeod-Roberts.