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Billable Hours, How I loathe thee.

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

  1. odoreater

    odoreater 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.


    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.
     
  2. JBZ

    JBZ 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.


    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.
     
  3. JBZ

    JBZ Senior member

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    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.
     
  4. Ambulance Chaser

    Ambulance Chaser Senior member

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    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.
     
  5. odoreater

    odoreater Senior member

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    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.
     
  6. JBZ

    JBZ Senior member

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

    True, but not in my specialty.
     
  7. imageWIS

    imageWIS Senior member

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    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.


    That's universal to every type of large business, no?

    Jon.
     
  8. Kai

    Kai Senior member

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    This thread reminds me of the reasons why I left the big law firm and went in house.

    For me, working in-house is much better.

    I get to see my family, I don't have to worry about billable hours, and I have a real stake in the results of the work I do here. All of these things make me happy. If I'd stayed at my firm, I would probably have made partner by now, but I would also not have all the great memories of spending so much time with my wife and kids and doing the other things I enjoy. My quality of life is more important to me than the extra money I might have made had I stayed at the big firm.


    Here's a billable hours anecdote from my big firm days.
    (My apologies to all those who have already read it in another thread.)

    My first year out of law school, I attended a firm party at the home of one of the senior partners of the firm. His house was a huge mansion in Greenwich, CT. Well over 10,000 square feet, a big, beautiful manicured lawn, a boat slip, pool, and a beautiful view of the ocean.
    One of the other senior partners called all of us first year associates around him. He said:

    "You see Bill's house? It's pretty amazing, isn't it." (appreciative nods from all of us first years) "It would be pretty cool to be able to afford a house like this someday, wouldn't it?" (more affirmative nods from the first year associates) "Well," he continued, "I'm going to tell you a secret about our law firm." "If you work really really hard, and I mean REALLY hard, that means weekends, holidays, birthdays, and late into the night . . . and you bill thousands of hours, and generate new business for our firm . . . and you do that year after year. . . . then Bill will be able to build another house, just like this one, down in Florida."
     
  9. Earthmover

    Earthmover Senior member

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    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.


    I'm a junior associate, so there's definitely less pressure. Although my understanding is that at our firm, we don't really have partners writing off our hours, unless in very extraordinary circumstances. I'm sure it becomes harder to bill as you get older in one sense, as they won't tolerate inefficiency as much, but I think having more control over your workload helps quite a bit. At least at my firm, there's definitely more power (although still not very much in absolute terms) to schedule things around life, rather than the other way around.

    The clients are getting savvier, but my understanding of my firm is that we're less concerned about that than most of our peers. Which is pretty nice.
     
  10. Mr. Checks

    Mr. Checks Senior member

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    I'm a junior associate, so there's definitely less pressure. Although my understanding is that at our firm, we don't really have partners writing off our hours, unless in very extraordinary circumstances. I'm sure it becomes harder to bill as you get older in one sense, as they won't tolerate inefficiency as much, but I think having more control over your workload helps quite a bit. At least at my firm, there's definitely more power (although still not very much in absolute terms) to schedule things around life, rather than the other way around.

    The clients are getting savvier, but my understanding of my firm is that we're less concerned about that than most of our peers. Which is pretty nice.


    My experience was that the hours came easier as you worked your own cases, because you had correspondence, phone calls, travel, yada yada. Not all pure research and writing.
     
  11. andrebaron

    andrebaron Active Member

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    This thread reminds me of the reasons why I left the big law firm and went in house.

    For me, working in-house is much better.

    I get to see my family, I don't have to worry about billable hours, and I have a real stake in the results of the work I do here. All of these things make me happy. If I'd stayed at my firm, I would probably have made partner by now, but I would also not have all the great memories of spending so much time with my wife and kids and doing the other things I enjoy. My quality of life is more important to me than the extra money I might have made had I stayed at the big firm.


    Here's a billable hours anecdote from my big firm days.
    (My apologies to all those who have already read it in another thread.)

    My first year out of law school, I attended a firm party at the home of one of the senior partners of the firm. His house was a huge mansion in Greenwich, CT. Well over 10,000 square feet, a big, beautiful manicured lawn, a boat slip, pool, and a beautiful view of the ocean.
    One of the other senior partners called all of us first year associates around him. He said:

    "You see Bill's house? It's pretty amazing, isn't it." (appreciative nods from all of us first years) "It would be pretty cool to be able to afford a house like this someday, wouldn't it?" (more affirmative nods from the first year associates) "Well," he continued, "I'm going to tell you a secret about our law firm." "If you work really really hard, and I mean REALLY hard, that means weekends, holidays, birthdays, and late into the night . . . and you bill thousands of hours, and generate new business for our firm . . . and you do that year after year. . . . then Bill will be able to build another house, just like this one, down in Florida."


    Brilliant and ,sadly, true. I had a similar experience in LA, where partners bought houses in Bev Hills bel Air And the palisades when making partner gave you the coin to move to those neighborhoods; now you would be lucky to buy a ranch style house in Northridge.
     
  12. zarathustra

    zarathustra Senior member

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    Bumped for the death of the billable hour.
     
  13. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Bumped for the death of the billable hour.

    Death? Hardly. It's going to have to evolve or mutate but there will continue to be the need for some sort of metric to a) show clients what they are paying for and b) record how hard a lawyer is working. Billable hours are far from being the perfect metric for that, but whatever changes will be in the context of an evolution rather than some abrupt change tantamount to their "death".
     
  14. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Death? Hardly. It's going to have to evolve or mutate but there will continue to be the need for some sort of metric to a) show clients what they are paying for and b) record how hard a lawyer is working. Billable hours are far from being the perfect metric for that, but whatever changes will be in the context of an evolution rather than some abrupt change tantamount to their "death".

    Well, for those of us not billing any hours, the billable hour is already pretty dead.
     
  15. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Well, for those of us not billing any hours, the billable hour is already pretty dead.

    This is not good. I suggest you look for some? Srsly...
     
  16. randallr

    randallr Senior member

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    I'm still making million dollar deals from my iPhone. With Alden.
     
  17. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I'm still making million dollar deals from my iPhone. With Alden.

    Sartorial vacation?
     
  18. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    This is not good. I suggest you look for some? Srsly...

    I was being facetious--somewhat. We're all getting less hours than we'd like. At this pace, I question how anyone can hope to make bonus.
     
  19. randallr

    randallr Senior member

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    I just started an internship where I actually record hours. I don't think that actual amount gets passed onto the client though since I am still learning.
     
  20. zarathustra

    zarathustra Senior member

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    Death? Hardly. It's going to have to evolve or mutate but there will continue to be the need for some sort of metric to a) show clients what they are paying for and b) record how hard a lawyer is working. Billable hours are far from being the perfect metric for that, but whatever changes will be in the context of an evolution rather than some abrupt change tantamount to their "death".

    Sorry hungover and the snark was not apparent. ha. I don't actually ever see the billable hour dying. The flat fee will never make sense in any sort of litigation scenario. Hell even on the corporate side you never know what will blow up and require more time than was allotted.

    Moreover, i think that the billable hour keeps the clients invested in the process. I hate working on a contingency case where the client is not rational about its options and outcomes.
     

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