Man may labor from sun to sun . . .

Over at Unfogged, LizardBreath had a recent post on the way that professions which bill by the hour are sort of inherently hostile to women. There's a suggestion in the comments that things would be better if law firms switched to contract pricing.

It's sort of a mystery to me how professional services decide whether to be project-based or hourly rate. There's a broad dicta that when output can't be measured, input will be . . . but I can't exactly draw a bright line between investment bankers, who take a commission on deals, and securities lawyers, who are paid by the hour.

That said, I think it's a fantasy that project billing would make law firms more mother-friendly. Investment banks are not exactly hotbeds of femininity, either. If law firms are really goldbricking, a switch to project-based pay would simply encourage them to take on more cases. Professional firms have a great deal of firm-specific human capital invested in their workers, and an incentive to split the partnership pie with as few people as possible. As long as the work remains extraordinarily highly paid, firms will try to squeeze as many hours as possible out of their employees.

It is interesting to contemplate why we've seen such a lifestyle switch over the last century. White shoe lawyers used to work much less hard than laborers. Now they probably clock at least twice as many hours a week as a typical warehouse worker. I have a hunch that it has to do with communications leaving less downtime, and also with increasing returns to knowledge, but I suspect that the decline of inherited wealth probably also plays a role. And probably many other things besides.