Friday, February 27, 2009

Punching the Clock for Thousands of Years

In response to my FindLaw column and blog entry about billable hours earlier in the week, I received a number of supportive emails, including one plugging a software package that automatically keeps track of time---at least while one is using a computer; I don't see how it can track what case a lawyer is thinking about when he or she goes to the restroom, for example. And if it can, well that's truly scary!

Here I just thought I'd note that the relation between lawyering and timekeeping is a truly ancient one. In Plato's Dialogue Theaetetus, we hear Socrates (who was no fan of lawyers) disparage the notion that a lawyer could be a teacher. He asks (in his Socratic way):
Do you imagine that there are any teachers in the world so clever as to be able to convince others of the truth about acts of robbery or violence, of which they were not eyewitnesses, while a little water is flowing in the clepsydra? [Jowett trans.]
A "clepsydra" was a water-clock (similar to an hour-glass but employing water rather than sand) that was used by the Greeks to ensure that the lawyers for each side had equal time to make their respective cases to the jury. The clock was filled for the beginning of the presentation and the lawyer had to finish by the time the clock was empty. To my knowledge, Plato does not report whether lawyers in his day billed by the hour or worked on contingency.

Posted by Mike Dorf