The answer to that question can be found in the answer to another question: How should people pay for what you do?
If you are a laborer, then you get paid for the work that you do measured by the time that you spend doing that work. The more time you spend working, the more you get paid for those hours of work. Of course, you're competent, or you wouldn't have gotten the job. And you've been given some basic training on how to do it. But the actual quality of your work has no effect on how much you get paid. Moreover, everyone around you doing the same work gets paid at the same rate, so there's no incentive to do better.
If your trade is painting, then you are a house painter, working for one of those companies that hires college students in the summer and pays them by the hour for their labor. Maybe it's a really good company, and maybe you get paid at a high wage rate. You are a laborer, and you get paid for the hours that you labor at a uniform rate.
But if you're an artist, it matters not one whit how many hours you spend. You get paid for the work that you create, not the work that you do. Sticking with the painting theme, you could work all summer long — as much as your college-painter pals — on a single canvas, struggling to get it just so before you pronounce your piece finished. Or you could slap the paint on the canvas in a single frenzied afternoon, let it dry and run it over to the gallery. The art buyer doesn't care how long you spent on your masterpiece; she only cares if she likes it, and if it's valuable enough to her to spend the price that you set for it. She's not buying your time and materials; she's buying your creation.
Laborers get paid by the hour. Artists get paid by the result — by their creation.
Most lawyers seem to think that they're laborers, doing workmanlike work for their (often admittedly large) salaries, and having their employers charge for that work based solely on the hours spent laboring.
But I like to believe that as lawyers, we are knowledge workers. We are experts. We are professionals. Our clients are paying for our creativity, our inspiration, our innovation, our dash. If we are litigators, they want us to solve the problem that is the litigation. If we are family lawyers, they want us to find a way out of their deeply personal family dispute. If we are corporate lawyers, they want us to find a way to let them run their companies the way they want to. If we are trusts-and-estates lawyers, they want us to help them protect their legacies for their families.
They don't want our hours. They don't even want our labor.
They want our art. And they're willing to pay for it.
So charge them for the art, not for the labor. Not for the hours.
[Photo by tolokonov at Flickr]