Why do cases take so long


I was sitting in court yesterday on a matrimonial matter. The courtroom was filled with lawyers, all waiting to see the Judge or the law secretary. It occurred to me that if you added up the amount being billed that morning, it was easily tens of thousands of dollars.

Some lawyers were sitting there reading the newspaper while billing at $375-400 per hour. Others were schmoozing with their friends or colleagues – again the meter was running. I felt badly for the clients that were there, watching their money being frittered away.

Why was there no sense of urgency? Why was everyone involved in the system content to while away the hours waiting? The simple answer is the billable hour. Who cares how long it takes to acomplish a particular task if the longer it takes the more money you make? The court calendars all cases for 9:30 AM. No one minds waiting, since the meter is running. There is no impetus to be efficient, because law is the only business in which the more efficient you are the LESS money you make.

There has to be a better way. You can bet that if all the lawyers in the room were getting a fixed fee for the appearance, they would be screaming about the delay. The same lack of urgency due to fees permates the entire legal system. Who cares how many times you have to come back to court if you are being paid by the hour?

Don’t get me wrong. I bill by the hour. But I don’t feel good about it.