Companies are constantly complaining about the high costs of the legal services they need to make their businesses run, and yet each and every year, legal fees get higher and higher. Clients grit their teeth, hand over the cash, and the cycle begins anew. Will Biglaw ever bite the bullet on the billable hour to give their corporate clients some relief?
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Greg Williamson, who was recently named managing partner of OGC, a partner-only boutique firm that serves as outside general counsel to businesses across the country, to get his thoughts on the matter. Here is a write-up of our lively conversation on why a better business model must be built when it comes to alternative options for law firm billing.
Staci Zaretsky (SZ): In case our readers are unfamiliar with the firm, please tell me a little more about OGC.
Greg Williamson (GW): OGC was founded over 20 years ago as a virtual law firm offering in-house legal counsel services to companies of all sizes at rates considerably more affordable and predictable than those of traditional firms. The firm’s innovative practice model, which is predicated on the belief that in-house lawyering is better for business, pairs former GCs and senior in-house lawyers with clients based on their particular needs. For early-stage companies, an OGC – aka outside general counsel – can serve as the company’s de facto GC, assisting with a wide range of legal needs on an as-needed basis; and for larger corporations with an existing legal function, an OGC can add bench strength or subject matter expertise without having to add headcount. All of our OGCs have at least 15 years of legal experience, with much of that time spent in-house, resulting in a business-oriented approach to problem solving that is more practical, responsive, and efficient than traditional firms.
SZ: Many lawyers think that the concept of the billable hour is “broken.” What are your thoughts on that?
GW: I couldn’t agree more with this perspective. I’ve said before that the traditional legal services delivery model is broken – clients are frustrated by the lack of predictability around cost, and many lawyers burn out from unrealistic expectations rooted in traditional firm hierarchy and a business model based on billable hours. What sets OGC apart and makes our model unique is how it addresses both sides of that broken equation. Our clients get a partner-level attorney with significant experience who can handle both sophisticated legal matters and day-to-day overflow support but at high-value rates.
Our partner-only model allows us to work much more efficiently on behalf of our clients, and the savings are passed along to them. And our attorneys can define their lifestyle – there is no minimum billable hour requirement and no business development expectation. Our lawyers have the flexibility to pursue other interests — whether they involve caregiving, volunteer work, or travel — all while continuing to do high-quality legal work for incredibly interesting clients. With a year-over-year attorney retention rate of better than 90%, our unique value proposition to excellent lawyers is unmatched.
SZ: Some Biglaw firms are considering moving to value-based billing over the billable hour. Do you think that’s a good alternative approach?
GW: The shift towards value-based billing seems to be gaining at least some traction in Biglaw, and I think much of that is being driven by clients seeking to optimize their legal spending. To do that, companies need more visibility and predictability into outside counsel spend, and many larger companies have been investing in their legal operations function as a means of streamlining costs. OGC has been delivering high-value legal services for more than 20 years. As a virtual-only, partner-only firm, we provide incredibly experienced and sophisticated attorneys at a predictable, hourly rate not seen elsewhere in the legal services market. As former in-house counsel, our OGCs understand the challenge that our clients face and strive to provide accurate cost estimates for assignments based upon the scope of work. Our approach leads to greater efficiency, predictability in costs, and a strong emphasis on delivering tangible results, and it resonates with clients looking for transparency and cost-effectiveness. Biglaw does certain things, like high-risk litigation and billion-dollar transactions, very well. But apart from those things, OGC can address a wide range of issues that are of critical importance to the business and require a great degree of skilled lawyering with greater efficiency and value.
SZ: How has your experience as both outside counsel and in-house counsel shaped your views on offering a better business model?
GW: I started my legal career with an Am Law 50 firm, and had the privilege of working alongside some truly incredible lawyers — some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. As my career progressed transitioning to the role of a consumer of legal services, I came to appreciate the distinctive qualities of outstanding in-house lawyers.
Great in-house lawyers possess a unique perspective, recognizing that their ultimate objective extends beyond mere legal compliance. Their focus is on delivering pragmatic, business-oriented solutions that empower clients to navigate legal requirements while maintaining operational efficiency. It became apparent to me that even the most skilled outside counsel, at times, may lose sight of this goal, leading to costly and frustrating delays in the problem-solving process.
At OGC, we’ve crafted a model that brings our clients the best of both worlds. They gain access to seasoned lawyers with a wealth of experience, all at rates that make excellent legal support not just a possibility, but a reality. What sets us apart is our understanding of the practical intricacies involved in supporting a business, ensuring a seamless integration of legal solutions with operational efficiency.
On behalf of everyone here at Above the Law, we’d like to thank Greg Williamson of OGC for taking the time to help answer some pressing questions on law firm billing, and why value-based billing may be the best way to serve corporate clients.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter and Threads or connect with her on LinkedIn.