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Billable Hours, How I loathe thee.

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by Renault78law, May 5, 2006.

  1. alflauren

    alflauren Senior member

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    Nice call with this thread, Renault78law. I've been wanting to bitch about billable hours for a while, even though I have it pretty easy. My firm's requirement is 1,800, and my total last year was 1,680. How'd I get away with it? Well, billable hours are important, but even more important is how much those hours bring in. After about a year on the job, I finally figured out the different (and totally arbitrary) rates that the firm billed me out at, and sought out the work with the highest billing rates and fastest-paying clients. The result is that my 1,680 brought in more than most people's 1,800.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I also cut my own time, and have a lot of non-billable work, so those hours were no cakewalk, but it did make things a bit more tolerable. The bottom line is that I'm done in August of 2007. I will be taking the GMAT soon and applying to business school this fall. If I get into a good business school, I'll go. If not, I'll quit my current job, move to where I actually want to live, and look for something else to do with my life.

    BTW, I always wanted to do the I-banking thing. I still do. But getting something has proven exceedingly difficult without an MBA. Hence, back to school. Now, if I could just use a calculator on the damn exam....[​IMG]
     
  2. GQgeek

    GQgeek Senior member

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    One thing you guys might want to consider is working for a large firm in a smaller market. That's what I decided to do coming out of law school. I had offers from big NYC firms with a starting salary of $140,000 but I decided to accept an offer from a big firm (about 300 lawyers just in the office where I will be working) that is headquartered in a smaller market for a lower salary (though, still six figures, so not bad). Part of the tradeoff for the lower salary is slightly better working conditions (about 60 hours per week instead of 80+). I think it's well worth the tradeoff (though, I'm starting as a first year associate this fall so we'll see how much of that is true and how much is hype).

    Not to mention the cost of living is likely a fraction of what it is in NY. Without getting in to specifics, I make good coin, but not six figures. Living in Montreal makes all the difference and my quality of life is GOOD. There is no driving or traffic jams and I can walk to both work and school. If I were in Toronto everything would be significantly more expensive and I'd be depressed every night when I finished my drive home.
     
  3. GQgeek

    GQgeek Senior member

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    Nice call with this thread, Renault78law. I've been wanting to bitch about billable hours for a while, even though I have it pretty easy. My firm's requirement is 1,800, and my total last year was 1,680. How'd I get away with it? Well, billable hours are important, but even more important is how much those hours bring in. After about a year on the job, I finally figured out the different (and totally arbitrary) rates that the firm billed me out at, and sought out the work with the highest billing rates and fastest-paying clients. The result is that my 1,680 brought in more than most people's 1,800.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I also cut my own time, and have a lot of non-billable work, so those hours were no cakewalk, but it did make things a bit more tolerable. The bottom line is that I'm done in August of 2007. I will be taking the GMAT soon and applying to business school this fall. If I get into a good business school, I'll go. If not, I'll quit my current job, move to where I actually want to live, and look for something else to do with my life.

    BTW, I always wanted to do the I-banking thing. I still do. But getting something has proven exceedingly difficult without an MBA. Hence, back to school. Now, if I could just use a calculator on the damn exam....[​IMG]


    You might look in to writing the CFA exams and look for jobs at a regional office as opposed to NY or London. I can't imagine they'd turn their noses up at someone with a law degree and CFA designation. The cost of the CFA course & exams is pretty cheap and it's something you do on your own time.

    I'm not sure how much weight they give it in the states, or whether it could substitute for an MBA, but in Canada they really like it (according to my uncle who was an I-banker that now runs an oil & gas company). I think most b-school grads do it during their analyst years.
     
  4. javyn

    javyn Senior member

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    I'm not trying to make mega bucks here, just enough to be able to live on my own. But yeah, I know how to work.
     
  5. andrebaron

    andrebaron Active Member

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    Geez, I went to a "famous" law school and joined a famous law firm and worked for a famous partner. I thought I would be "happy" achieving all these things and having the scratch to buy what I want, to boot. Well, wearing bespoke suits and JL cap toes whilst writing memos in the library got a little thin; I looked great, but only to the firm librarian(who was actually hot) and the drivers of the black cars that would shuttle me home late at night. I bagged my job , went to an I- bank, had more fun(because I was doing more "entrepreneurial" stuff--creating deals rather than servicing them)--but I work just as hard , if not harder. The key is to make sure what you do in your life, if you spend years in school and pay huge bucks to do so--is to make sure that you spend your days of labor on matters or assignments that give you some modicum of pleasure. To be fair, there are those who love the law--and all of the detail that goes with such a practice-and God bless them, for they actually enjoy that grind. To each his/her own, I guess.
     
  6. alflauren

    alflauren Senior member

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    I bagged my job , went to an I- bank, had more fun(because I was doing more "entrepreneurial" stuff--creating deals rather than servicing them)--but I work just as hard , if not harder. The key is to make sure what you do in your life, if you spend years in school and pay huge bucks to do so--is to make sure that you spend your days of labor on matters or assignments that give you some modicum of pleasure. To be fair, there are those who love the law--and all of the detail that goes with such a practice-and God bless them, for they actually enjoy that grind. To each his/her own, I guess.

    See, that's it. Just the sort of thing I'm looking to do for precisely the same reasons. I don't mind longer hours, but the work has to be better. Frankly, the only reason that I went to law school was because no decent MBA program will take a college grad with no work experience.

    There are certainly people who do love the law. There are plenty at my firm, and they spend their time cleaning up others' messes. But I'm not terribly fond of that role in society. I'd rather be the one doing the deal in the first place.

    GQgeek - the CFA is an interesting idea. Thanks for the suggestion.
     
  7. Earthmover

    Earthmover Senior member

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    Let me say that being a corporate lawyer does not mean being lazy. And I'll leave it at that.

    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.
     
  8. LabelKing

    LabelKing Senior member

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    I don't know of a job that offers this AND insanely great pay. You want the dime, you gotta do the time.
    One my relatives was an art/antiques dealer. Sometimes he would make $100,000 or more minus certain expenses on a single day, which only required him to invite potential clients for dinner and drinks.
     
  9. tiger02

    tiger02 Senior member

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    Renault, sounds like it's time to quit and open a wine bar [​IMG]
     
  10. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    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.

    Re the first paragraph -- exactly. My firm has no billable, and we're all lockstep, which means that everyone is supposed to be neurotic enough to pull their weight. Amazingly, it works, and the rare slacker gets HATED. When I'm busy, I'm insanely busy. When I'm not, I'm not. Last week I billed 30 hours straight from a Sunday afternoon to a Monday night, and then the rest of the week luckily scrounged a few hours here and there. In Paris I work harder than I worked in the US, for the most part, but I get to be in Freedom. However, the people I know who are partner live and breathe the law. You have to, for it to take so much precedence in your life, over sleep, family and to many appearances, a personal life. Be warned. For the moment, I'm trying to learn what I can and figure out what to do next with my life that supports my greed, since I don't really think I'm partner material, leastways not here.
     
  11. GreyFlannelMan

    GreyFlannelMan Senior member

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    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.
     
  12. andrebaron

    andrebaron Active Member

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    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.
     
  13. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    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.
     
  14. Huntsman

    Huntsman Senior member

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    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
     
  15. retronotmetro

    retronotmetro Senior member

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    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.
     
  16. Dakota rube

    Dakota rube Senior member

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    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. [​IMG] ) But I gotta tell you... it really isn't about the money.
     
  17. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    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.
     
  18. YoungFogey

    YoungFogey Senior member

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    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.
     
  19. Mr. Checks

    Mr. Checks Senior member

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    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.
     
  20. Augusto86

    Augusto86 Senior member

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    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.
     

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