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Billable Hours, How I loathe thee. - Page 3

post #31 of 79
I got numb to billable hours after a while. And that is where the danger lies -- essentially giving up. Fortunately or not, the last three years of my life involved working on one major case where it was no problem whatsoever to meet billable "guidelines." But it was this experience also that drove me over the edge to burnout and, ultimately, a major career change.

I decided fairly early on that I did not want to be a partner as I did not have it in me. Of course, when I entered law, I thought otherwise. But a few years of the grind changed my view. I suppose I could have changed firms or transitioned to a different kind of law, but after a certain time, one tends to get locked in to a certain area. At the end of the day, if one wanted to do restructurings, my old firm was one of the top three places to be. We won the complex cases. And I genuinely enjoyed working there and my colleagues were, for the most part, very smart, hard-working people.

Back to point: billable hours can kill one's spirit in so many ways. His personal life; his professional ambitions; his interest in the practice of law. We do seem to have an unhealthy work ethic in this country, and perhaps more so in law.

Andrebaron makes an interesting observation: apart from personal satisfcation, what use is there in dressing well when the only people who see you are a) your poorly dressed colleagues who may or may not appreciate your clothes; b) librarians, paralegals and others on the overnight shifts, or; c) car service drivers?


Aside:

RJ--are you in Freedom on a long-term secondment, or is this solely related to one client? How long will you be there? I'm just curious, as I believe an assignment such as that would have been interesting.
post #32 of 79
Grey Flannel--Thanks for your commentary--after dozens and dozens of talks with those whose experiences are similar to ours, I have drawn some simple conclusions:
1. We were(and are)highly motivated and responsible guys
2. Much like super tanker, it takes us a while to turn even if w see an iceberg in our path
3. It has been ingrained in us to keep plugging away at something even if you are unhappy--kind of like a latent Puritan ethic that's intertwined in your DNA.
4. The key: to break that psychological bond that keeps you from leaving Cravath, Sullivan or a Wachtell Lipton or any law firm for that matter. And to do that, you have to remind your self that it's your life to lead,( not the partner's ,your highly competitive peers or even your mom's)--and that life is short.
post #33 of 79
Andre, mad props to you.

GF: I am on a three-year stint -- "secondment" you can call it -- in our Paris office, related to no client in particular. It's what I wanted most of all in a law firm. I got it after having planned for this since before law school. Now what?

From the above, those of you planning to go to law school, think! Talk to as many lawyers as you can, particularly those who are fairly junior, and to as many law students. Get a sense of how they feel about their jobs, and about what sort of lives they lead, and what sort of persons they are. Then ask yourself if that's what you want. I had few illusions going in. Unless my greed is an illusion. Or my soul was.

GFM, great point on the futility of dressing for colleagues, librarians and car service people. In the end, though, those of us crazy enough to be posting on style boards are doing it for ourselves.
post #34 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by andrebaron
3. It has been ingrained in us to keep plugging away at something even if you are unhappy--kind of like a latent Puritan ethic that's intertwined in your DNA.
"Anyone can be faithful to an employer; millions are, daily, contantly; it is one of the dullest and most vulgar of loyalties." -- qtd. in. Baring-Gould, W.S. The Nero Wolfe of W. 35th Street. Viking, 1965 ~ Huntsman
post #35 of 79
First and second years often have problems making hours because they rely so heavily on discrete, delegated tasks. Partners don't know you and sometimes won't give you tasks that require a greater experience level, and the mid-level and senior associates either hoard work to make their own hours, aren't effective at delegating things to the lowest-level people, or haven't yet figured out who can be trusted.

Once you are over the first bump in the learning curve, hours tend to take care of themselves. It's mainly an issue of becoming known as a go-to person so that the partners think of staffing you on a case immediately at the start. If you are able to jump in at the start and get your own work, you aren't waiting for work to come in the door.

Getting out of a firm isn't always the lifestyle improvement some people think. I moved over to government last year, and I am actually busier and more stressed than I was at Biglaw, for a lot less money. It's valuable experience, but it sure isn't helping my health or sanity.
post #36 of 79
I really, truly, envy a dude I met on the St. Pete's Beach a few years ago. He holds the lease or license (or something) on the wooden chaise lounge chairs lined up the strand. He walks around all day in a pair of board shorts, flip flops, a surf shop t-shirt and keeps track of how many hours you've been sitting in the chair. That's the kind of billable hours I'd be very, very interested in. I'm getting stressed out just reading most of you guys. Really. Do you really enjoy what it is you're doing? Wouldn't it be nice to get up in the morning and have the biggest decision you've got to make all day be what sunglasses you're going to put on? And when the sun goes down...you're done for the day. I'm sure most of you "hours" guys will be far wealthier than I ever will. (My soon-to-be ex-wife kind made sure of that. ) But I gotta tell you... it really isn't about the money.
post #37 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dakota rube
I really, truly, envy a dude I met on the St. Pete's Beach a few years ago. He holds the lease or license (or something) on the wooden chaise lounge chairs lined up the strand. He walks around all day in a pair of board shorts, flip flops, a surf shop t-shirt and keeps track of how many hours you've been sitting in the chair.

I dunno... Walking around in flip-flops all day sounds like punishment to me.
post #38 of 79
The worst is finding yourself between the Scylla of firm target hours and the Charybdis of partners complaining about your time that they're writing off because they don't want to bill it to the client.
post #39 of 79
If you're doing what you love to do, you'll do it well. If you do the work well, either (1) the hours will take care of themselves or (2) you can find some 'of-counsel' role and live a happy, full life on a salary that most of the rest of the country would love.

I was never the king of billable hours at my firm (that would have required 2600 hours plus), but I added value to it because they needed an appellate guy.

January 2003 was the last month I billed time to someone, and was one of the great events of my life. YMMV, and the best way to think of billables is not to fight them, just regard it as something to get out of the way, like a musician who has to practice five hours a day. Don't fight it your whole career; either come to peace with it or leave. It's really that stark a choice.
post #40 of 79
Huh...this thread is very interesting to me. I'm an English and Creative Writing major at the moment, at the end of my sophomore year. I'm considering doing what some people I know did, and parlaying a writing degree into possible entrance into law school. However, what I know of the law is limited to theory and cases I've read about in the pre-law program here, so I know little to nothing of the actual practice of it?

Is it the consensus, then, that being a lawyer more or less means giving up one's personal life? I'm not sure I can live with that. For me, happiness will always come before career.
post #41 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Augusto86
Huh...this thread is very interesting to me. I'm an English and Creative Writing major at the moment, at the end of my sophomore year. I'm considering doing what some people I know did, and parlaying a writing degree into possible entrance into law school. However, what I know of the law is limited to theory and cases I've read about in the pre-law program here, so I know little to nothing of the actual practice of it?

Is it the consensus, then, that being a lawyer more or less means giving up one's personal life? I'm not sure I can live with that. For me, happiness will always come before career.

Not necessarily. Being a lawyer at a biglaw firm in NYC, LA, Chicago, Boston (etc.) might mean giving up your personal life. It's not unheard of for attorneys at these firms to work 80+ hours per week. In smaller markets or smaller firms this number might go down to 60 or so hours per week, which gives you slightly more personal time. Also, there are other legal jobs where you might work even less.

The problem is that most people come out of law school with over $100,000 in debt, so they need to go the biglaw route just to make enough to pay off their loans.
post #42 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Augusto86
Huh...this thread is very interesting to me. I'm an English and Creative Writing major at the moment, at the end of my sophomore year. I'm considering doing what some people I know did, and parlaying a writing degree into possible entrance into law school. However, what I know of the law is limited to theory and cases I've read about in the pre-law program here, so I know little to nothing of the actual practice of it?

Is it the consensus, then, that being a lawyer more or less means giving up one's personal life? I'm not sure I can live with that. For me, happiness will always come before career.

Before answering your question, let me say this: if you enjoy creative writing, don't become a lawyer. In order to practice law successfully, you need to write well, but not creatively. Most of your writing will either be in the form of modification of previously drafted documents (if you're on the corporate side) or based upon legal precedent (if you're on the legal side). There is a lot of creative THINKING in the practice of law (e.g. "how can I use the precedent to advance my argument?"), but, in my experience, not creative writing.

I don't think you have to give up your personal life to become a lawyer. However, if you want to have a career in private practice where the big bucks are, you're going to have to make personal sacrifices. Also, as was noted above, just because you take a government or other legal job doesn't mean you won't work killer hours - you'll just do it for less money (though you probably won't have to bill your time). The billable hours phenomenon is unique to the private practice of law, but this isn't the only thing which leads to stress in the legal profession. If billable hours were eliminated tomorrow, the hours at a BigLaw firm would probably be just as long.

I don't want people to have the perception that I'm saying that the practice of law is a bad thing. I enjoy what I do for the most part. I just didn't enjoy a lot of the crap that came with working at a large firm. Also, there are plenty of other professions where you will work just as hard as law, and where you have just as much if not more stress (I Banking is certainly one, as, I imagine, is medicine (and at least if I screw up, no one dies)). If you want to make a lot of money, you usually have to work hard to do it.
post #43 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Earthmover
Totally agree. I don't know how anyone would get an impression otherwise.

As a corporate lawyer, I actually don't worry about billable hours at all. The reason for it is that I work just too damn much and the billing more than takes care of itself. I really do like my job, however, so that helps a lot, but it also means that I take on an ungodly amount of work, often leading to late nights and plenty of weekends. If someone can afford to be lazy in a NYC corporate law firm, I think the most likely answer would be that they are not very good.

It does help immensely that all of my firm's clients are considered excellent - no bickering over hours and pay promptly, especially on the corporate side. Therefore, there's no pressure to cut my time at all; I bill exactly what I worked, which takes a lot of pressure off of the billable hours. I think Litigation isn't as care-free with the billing, which does help cause more stress.

Just out of curiosity, what year associate are you (or are you a partner)? I found that, when I was a more junior level associate, I worried less about billables, because my firm encouraged me at that time to bill what I worked and let the partner worry about write offs (with certain rare exceptions). The argument was, "you're junior and you're learning - we know it might take you 4 hours to do something a more experience attorney would do in 2 - we consider this part of the learning process, so bill your time." Also, my rate was comparatively low, so partners were happy to give me work if it meant a slightly lower bill to their client, and thus a happier client.

As I became more senior, I found I struggled more to get hours because my rate had gone up. Also, there was a more pressure to keep my hours lower for the same reason. Finally, there was a bit of an economic downturn during my last couple of years at my old firm, which added to the difficulty in getting hours.

It's great if your corporate clients will simply pay their legal bills without ever complaining. However, I think this is a fairly unique situation. More and more, clients are reviewing their attorneys' bills and asking for fee cuts. They are becoming more and more savvy regarding legal bills and are on the look out for attempts to "pad" hours.
post #44 of 79
I always found not having work to be more stressful than having work. If you're not billing to a client, you're basically spending a vacation at the office.

What I found just as distasteful as billable targets was the political b.s. and jockeying for position endemic to large law firms. Your political skills are often more important than your legal skills in determining your future in the firm.
post #45 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by JBZ
Also, there are plenty of other professions where you will work just as hard as law, and where you have just as much if not more stress...is medicine (and at least if I screw up, no one dies)).

There's some lawyers whose clients die if they screw up.
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