Holland & Knight’s lobbying group leaves billable hour behind

Holland & Knight’s lobbying division, one of K Street’s most lucrative public policy groups, is ditching the billable hour starting Jan. 1.

The move, approved by law firm management late last week, is a major change in the way lobbying groups within law firms traditionally charge clients. Most government relations groups at law firms charge a monthly retainer, but individual lobbyists still have to keep track of their hours. That practice has long made it harder for law firms to compete with independent lobbying and consulting shops — where lobbyists don’t typically do hourly timekeeping — in recruiting top talent.

Now, instead of billing hours to a matter, Holland & Knight will allocate upfront a portion of the monthly or yearly retainer to each individual working on the matter, based on estimates of how much they’ve charged in the past.

“We’ll be the first national firm that will have decided not to use the billable hour framework for a major practice group,” said Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation group. The firm is among K Street’s top-earners, this year raking in $13.8 million in lobbying revenue.

Gold said the change, which will apply to about 200 client matters going forward, will give lobbyists “the freedom to do what they think is best to advance client interests.”

“It’s difficult to justify hanging around the Hill for three or four hours unless you’re there for specific meetings you can bill to the client.,” he said. “Sometimes the most productive time is spent walking around people’s offices figuring out what’s going on.

Other law firms’ lobbying practices may follow Holland’s lead to get a leg up in recruiting, said Ivan Adler, a headhunter for lawyers and lobbyists at the McCormick Group.

“I don’t know anyone other than Holland that has a government relations practice as part of law firm — and not a subsidiary — that’s doing this,” Adler said. “I think it’s a groundbreaking thing. You will see firms that are serious about their government relations practice following ... It will be a good indicator about whether they’re serious about their government relations practices or not.”

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

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