Stephen Gillers at Legal Ethics Forum poses an interesting question:
You're a legal ethics expert. Law Firm wants to be able to consult you from time to time as questions arise. The work will be by phone and email.
For a couple of years, you charge hourly. But you find yourself recording ten mintues here, twenty minutes there, etc. The recordkeeping is a bit of a drag.
So in the third year, based on the usage in the prior years, you suggest a quarterly payment of $X for the same phone and email advice.
That works well in the third year, but then in the third quarter of the fourth year, you realize that you have been called five times that year for a total of less than two hours of work for the entire year so far. Your initial prediction, based on experience, was 3-4 hours per quarter.
Now the firm has 68 lawyers so no one knows how much the firm is utilizing you in total because any of the lawyers is free to call and do. No lawyer knows how much any other lawyer is using you.
Do you bill for the fourth quarter? Do you return any of the money? Do you alert the managing partner and negotiate a lower (or no) quarterly payment for the following year?
SBM Blog has two more questions: If you don't keep the money, why not? Because it's not right, or because it's good business sense not to keep the money, in terms of your reputation and future business prospects?