Mr. Gillinger, who represents families of children with special needs and learning disabilities in California, believes modeling legal bills after popular mobile phone plans that offer “roll over minutes” can be used as an effective way to provide legal clients with greater cost predictability.
While the concept admittedly draws some skepticism, Mr. Gillinger argues predictability of legal bills is the number one concern of the various business departments of Mr. Gillinger’s corporate clients, while excellent legal outcomes remain most important to his corporate clients.
Instead of thinking about it as having to pay for a legal service, he says to think about it as a commitment of the law firm to serve the firm’s clients, in a guaranteed and previously agreed upon amount that is consistent with each individual client’s needs. Or, as he puts it:
“What I offer my institutional clients that I represent as defendants is essentially the option of selecting a “plan” akin to what some popular mobile phone providers offer their customers. Clients choose the plan that is right for them based on historical average monthly defense costs.”
In other words, as he explains it, some months his clients will use their entire budget (or retainer) due to unusually high need for the firm’s legal services, yet in many other months, these very same clients require the firm to provide them with none, or less than average, legal support. In the later scenario where his clients request no, or less-than-average, time from the firm’s attorneys, his clients are able to “roll over” those hours to cover months of greater legal needs. Because his clients’ plans are selected based on each individual client’s average monthly legal expenses, the hours that clients roll over are nearly always sufficient to cover the amount invoiced by the firm in months of greater-than-average need for legal services.
Avoiding Spikes in Legal Fees
“This turns spikes in clients’ legal expenses into rolling hills,” for which his clients’ business officers and departments can plan and budget far easier, he says. Unlike a traditional pay-as-you-go agreement, there’s a cap on the bill and anything that goes under that amount, gets applied to a later bill.
In essence, it spreads legal costs for the firm’s clients more evenly during the months. This model remedies the unpredictability of greater-than-average legal defense costs to clients in favor of a legal defense plan that makes the client’s legal services costs certain each month.
The process enables clients to forecast this expense type easily and to develop more accurate monthly and yearly budgets. When the client’s legal defense obligations are fixed in this way, the firm enjoys the benefit of regular fee income and a shorter interval between invoicing and payment by clients who plan to make a fixed-amount monthly payment to the firm. Certainty and constants of this type truly benefit both client and firm alike.
The Future of Legal Billing
Mr. Gillinger is such a strong proponent of this type of billing arrangement that he believes it might just be the way of the future for the legal profession. Especially for corporations and 501c3 non-profits he now represents and for the public entity client he formerly represented, arrangements that can provide a bit of budget clarity, is extremely helpful.
Mr. Gillinger has other thoughts about legal billing in the coming years, especially when it applies to special education litigation. He believes one day we may see counties and private school districts, at least in California, pool their resources together to pay for special education legal defense costs that are never covered by policies of insurance. The model would be akin to pooled risk and resources found in insurance policies or Joint Power Authority equivalent for public entities, but without the middleman and the exclusions for administrative legal defense costs or as against claims that do not include claims for damages.
While this may sound like a novel idea, he believes since many of these entities are strapped for cash, we may soon see a third parties such as litigation adjusters stepping into the mix. Essentially, this would allow the county to draw from a larger pool of resources to pay for the extraordinary costs associated with this very specialized type of litigation. He admits this has both pros and cons. The pro being access to legal services at an attainable cost, and the con being, losing the ability to select ones’ own counsel.
Technology and Serving the Underrepresented
At present, Mr. Gillinger focuses his time on delivering legal counsel to among some of his communities’ most underrepresented clientele. After spending nearly a decade representing California public entities while at Gibeaut Mahan & Briscoe and thereafter at Burke Williams & Sorensen, LLP and starting a special education administrative defense practice group at both of these distinguished law firms, he now serves parents and their special needs children in his administrative special education and related civil rights law firm. He seems uniquely able to provide parents with a near insider’s perspective who find themselves opposing their local public educational agencies, and provides regular seminars to the public at no cost.
Mr. Gillinger also prides himself on running a lean office which helps him better serve his clients. In addition to operating in a completely paperless environment and reducing his offices’ carbon footprint, he relies solely on technology to help him manage the business side of this practice.
To do this, he uses the LexisNexis® Time Matters® practice management software. The technology he says enables him to keep his overhead costs minimal, while running his office more efficiently. This efficiency is passed directly onto clients.
One of the best features of Time Matters he says is having the ability to call clients directly from his computer without ever having to pick up the phone. He does this while having a full view of his clients’ legal matters and history at his fingertips. This is an important tool, especially during busier times, like when he is preparing for a trial, he said.
In the future, Mr. Gillinger believes the majority of his colleagues in the legal profession will need to engage in what he refers to as “smart thinking” and use creativity with respect to managing their legal practices.
If this means having the ability to better serve deserving children and families, then it sure makes sense to us.
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