There Are Only 8 Gazillion Billable Hours In A Year ….

There Are Only 8 Gazillion Billable Hours In A Year ....

“The billable-hour system is the way most lawyers in big firms charge clients, but it serves no one. Well, almost no one. It brings most equity partners in those firms great wealth. Law firm leaders call it a leveraged pyramid. Most associates call it a living hell.”

“At $400 an hour, a hypothetical 2,000-hour-a-year associate generates $800,000 a year for the firm. But the firm typically pays the salaried lawyer one-fourth of that amount or less.

For associates, the goal is simple: meet the required (or expected) minimum number of billable hours to qualify for annual bonuses and salary increases. Billing 2,000 hours a year isn’t easy. It typically takes at least 50 hours a week to bill an honest 40 hours to a client. Add commuting time, bathroom breaks, lunch, holidays, an annual vacation and a little socializing, and most associates find themselves working evenings and weekends to “make their hours.” Most firms increase financial rewards as an associate’s billables move beyond the stated threshold.

For partners, billable hours are a key measure of associate and partner productivity. More is better. The resulting culture pushes everyone harder. Meanwhile, each partner strives to maximize individual client billings that he or she controls. Those billings in most cases determine a partner’s annual share of the firm’s profits. Their clients also become tickets to other firms. That makes partners reluctant to share too many important client responsibilities with their associates and fellow partners.

For clients, the consequences of the billable-hour system can be absurd. Fatigue through overwork can produce negative returns — the critical document missed during a late-night marathon review; the error in the draft of a corporate filing that goes unnoticed.”

— “The Tyranny of the Billable Hour,” Stephen J. Harper, New York Times

(Stephen J. Harper has a new book, The Lawyer Bubble.)


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Image (“Lawyer Time”) by Mike Licht. Download a copy  here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

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