“It has been criticized as inefficient, needlessly punitive, and susceptible to abuse. Law students are warned about it. Attorneys have called for its death and likened living under its regime to a ‘living hell.’ Still, the billable hour reigns.
But that may not always be the case, as shifts in the legal industry are forcing traditional law firms to reconsider their structures.
Firms that use billable hours make money by paying their associates flat salaries that come out to less than the combined hourly fees at which they’re billed out to clients. Then firms pocket the difference. This structure incentivizes them to hire many associates and work them extremely hard (which might account for why for “associate attorney” has been labeled the ‘unhappiest job‘). The billable-hour model only works, however, when firms are flush with business. During the recession, idle associates became dead weight, law firms orchestrated massive layoffs, and the model’s risks were exposed.”
— “Is the Billable Hour Obsolete?” Leigh McMullan Abramson, The Atlantic
Image (“Lawyer Time”) by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,
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