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Billable hours-- is this a reasonable schedule?

nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
edited August 2007 in Law School
After reading a very interesting article by Yale about billable hours, I figured that about two to three hours of my daily work hours would not be billable and so I devised this schedule to meet a law firm's billable hour requirement for bonus. I'm posting it to ask if (for those of you who have worked in Big Law) this type of schedule would be feasible and if it doesn't seem too hopeful/naive.

Monday 6-6
Tuesday 10-6
Wednesday 6-6
Thursday 10-6
Friday 6-6

And one Saturday per month from 1-6.

At 47 weeks annually, and minus two hours per day for non-billable hours, I would be able to bill: 1974.

The minimum for a bonus is 1900.

I'd appreciate any feedback-- I know this subject can get complicated!
Post edited by nglez09 on

Replies to: Billable hours-- is this a reasonable schedule?

  • unbelievablemunbelievablem Registered User Posts: 1,185 Senior Member
    its not as if they just tell you to bill X number of hours a year and you get to go off and do them whenever you want -- your hours on a daily, weekly, monthly basis are determined by what you are working on at the time. a deadline needs to be met -- you are there until late at night to meet it -- you don't leave at 6, wave goodbye and say, don't worry i'm still on target for my yearly hours.

    sometimes you think you've planned your week out perfectly -- then a senior attorney pops his head in the door and in addition to what you already had to do that week, there's now a rush issue on top of it. or a client calls -- and they don't care you were planning to leave in 1/2 an hour.

    sometimes the deadlines are real -- a court paper needs to be filed by a given date, a client needs an answer by a given date. sometimes they are less "real" - the partner wants an answer on a given day, because he wants an answer on that day. as far as the associate is concerned, there is relatively little control over when the deadlines are -- asking for extensions once in a while may be ok, but make a regular practice of it, and don't expect it to go unnoticed.

    first and foremost you have got to understand the basic concept -- law is a service industry -- the lawyer's time is dictated by the demands of the work, not by the lawyer's personal agenda.

    there have been prior posts discussing billable hours -- do a search, they may give a better explanation of what you should realistically expect.
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    I would add a few things:

    1. There are slow weeks now and then -- these can really get you off track.

    2. No matter what they tell you about "face time," you will feel a good deal of pressure to leave later than 6:00.

    3. It's hard enough to bill 1900 hours at your own convenience. It's a lot harder to bill 1900 hours at somebody else's convenience.

    So yeah, your schedule probably wouldn't work out.
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    By the way, I did know a litigation associate who got heavily into long term document review. That was all she did. To me it was boring, miserable work, but the one big advantage was that she completely set her own hours. She worked 9 to 5, monday thru friday and collected an associate's pay and bonus.
  • unbelievablemunbelievablem Registered User Posts: 1,185 Senior Member
    one sad fact you have to realize re your proposed 6-6 schedule -- no one will care that you will be there hours before anyone else -- what they will notice is that you are leaving hours before anyone else -- doesn't matter if you end up billing the same number of hours as those seen around the office well past 6pm. what a senior attorney will remember is not being able to find you at 6:30 when everyone else is busy working. and in fact under your proposed schedule, even though you plan to come in 6 am most days, people will probably remember the days they see you walking in at 10 am.

    you can think that doesn't sound fair, and sometimes it just won't be -- but on the other hand there will be times when it would be important to be there when everyone else working on the same project as you are is there.

    so my guess -- you could try getting your work done by coming in 6 am, but you will quickly find that there are so many days you end up there well past 6pm as well, that you just won't bother (be able) to keep up the early hours in addition.
  • drusbadrusba Registered User Posts: 9,317 Senior Member
    Young associates in Big Law usually do not follow set schedules like you set out. Sometimes they go only 9-5 five days a week; sometimes they may go from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., weekends included; many times they skip lunch; many times dinner is ordered and brought in. Get selected on a Friday for the new case that just walked in where Company A has sued your firm's client, Company B, seeking a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction that would shut down Company B and you will find yourself in a case where the pace is super fast and the work hours are 19 hours a day, 7 days a week, for four to five weeks. In essence, it depends on what they are doing at the particular time. 1900 billable hours in most Big Law places would be low for a young associate -- you will see many in the 2200 to 2400 range in many Big Law firms
  • sallyawpsallyawp Registered User Posts: 2,059 Senior Member
    I have to agree with everything that's been mentioned here. Law is a client service industry, and you must jump to attention whenever the client calls, no matter when the call comes or how inconvenient it may be for you. In addition, one of the biggest difficulties for junior associates (and sometimes senior associates) is that you have little control over when and how your work gets done. Yes, sometimes you will be given a project on a Monday with a deadline to hand it in by Friday. In that case, how and when you get your work done is up to you, so long as it gets done and gets done well. However, more often it seems, there are conference calls, meetings and things that just come up that blow any preconceived schedule out of existence. If a client is bringing a matter to a high-priced biglaw firm, usually that matter is complex and there will be many bumps in the road. Those bumps usually mean some late nights and a lot of weekends.

    In addition, every biglaw associate is well aware of the dreaded 4 p.m. on Friday call from a partner or senior associate that comes all too often . . . oh, and in this era of blackberries (or crackberries, as we usually call them) and access at all times, you can't get away by simply screening your phone calls. Sometimes that call has nothing to do with matters you are currently working on, and may pertain to the details of a brand new weekend assignment.

    Oh, and especially at the beginning, you may have a lot more than two hours a day of nonbillable time as you figure out what the heck it is that you are supposed to be doing. Add in CLE requirements (continuing legal education), training breakfasts and lunches, pro bono assignments (which sometimes count towards your billable hour requirements but do not typically replace the normal amount of billable work that you are supposed to be doing), lunch, coffee, bathroom breaks, doctor's appointments, actually spending time memorializing all of your billable time, etc., and you can find yourself spending a lot more time in the office than you think. Also, not everyone is entirely productive and tuned in for ten hours straight every day -- in fact, most people probably aren't.

    Most associates who are doing well and who are in demand will exceed the minimum billable hours requirements at most firms by a comfortable margin. Yes, indeed the prize for doing a good job is often more work. As a partner I worked with when I was a baby lawyer used to say -- "The competent get punished over and over again."
  • nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
    Wow, many eye openers! And how does religion play in on all this? Like, for example, if you are an Orthodox Jew, and you must leave Friday midday and cannot work on most of Saturday? Or if you go to church on certain days that simply cannot be disregarded? How will this be viewed by the partners?

    lskinner, could you elaborate a bit more on that litigation attorney and her schedule as well as what exactly is document review?

    Thanks a lot!
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    And how does religion play in on all this? Like, for example, if you are an Orthodox Jew, and you must leave Friday midday and cannot work on most of Saturday?

    In my experience, most firms will acommodate this. However there is a touchy relationship between law firms and Orthodox Jews, particularly in New York City. On the one hand, a huge percentage of attorneys in NYC are Jewish. So it will be understood if an attorney needs to leave early on Friday, particularly in the winter. Or not work on Saturday.

    On the other hand, there is a good deal of prejudice against Orthodox Jews in NYC law firms. Particularly among non-Orthodox Jews. If you show up for job interviews with a Yarmulke and a Yiddish accent, you may have a hard time getting hired.

    One last point: Although a firm may accommodate the fact that an associate puts his or her religion (or family) ahead of the firm, it still may be an obstacle to making partner. The sense I get is that a lot of firms like to promote associates who make it clear that the firm is the number 1 priority in their life.
    lskinner, could you elaborate a bit more on that litigation attorney and her schedule as well as what exactly is document review?

    Document review means just that: looking at documents. See, when big corporations litigate against eachother, they have to produce massive amounts of documents. Each side has to have attorneys review the documents to decide if the documents should be produced and whether or not they are privileged. It's boring, tedious work. Also, it will not give you much experience as an attorney. However, it results in a lot of easy billable hours.

    The associate I knew was in a special situation because there was no particular deadline to review the documents and no particular case she was working on. For various reasons, the client was willing to pay somebody to review its documents and write summaries about them.

    Which is another thing about BIG(f?)LAW. As a litigation associate, you tend to do a lot of work that is of marginal value to the client. After a while, it wears away at you. You may think to yourself something like "what do I care as long as they pay me?" But if you have pride in yourself as an attorney, you will care.

    JMHO.
  • cartera45cartera45 Registered User Posts: 12,452 Senior Member
    Others have pointed out the problems with your schedule and they are absolutely right. If you want a job where you can even think of having a schedule, being an associate in "biglaw" is not the job for you. You will be shocked at how much of your day may not be billable. You may put it on your timesheet, but partners can and do cut those hours if they cannot justify the client paying for you to get up to speed. Getting in 8 out of 10 hours a day as billable would be a very high efficiency rate that most associates don't achieve. Your life may be a little more in your control if you stay away from litigation - there may be times when you sleep at the office otherwise. I worked with a partner who came in at 6am and one who never left before 8pm so it seemed I was always in trouble with one or the other. The billable requirement that firms publish is meaningless at many firms. There are inevitably a few workaholic associates around who bill 2300-2400 hrs. and you will be compared to them so putting in the minimum will not mean much.
  • alwaysamomalwaysamom Registered User Posts: 12,061 Senior Member
    Just a few comments from someone who has been married to a 'biglaw' lawyer for 30+ years.

    1- There is no such thing as a schedule.

    2- Two to three hours of non-billable time per day is unrealistic, in most circumstances, and totally unable to predict.

    3- I have yet to meet a lawyer who works an eight hour day.

    4- I have yet to meet a lawyer who leaves work by 6 P.M.

    Attempting to plan and organize a schedule like this is not something that can be done in the practice of law, particularly for a young associate.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 8,832 Senior Member
    I work for a large corporation. Our in- house attorney's work something like the schedule you've outlined (but nobody can predict leaving at 6 pm more than one or two days a week.)... some have children in grade school so they come in later..Some have kids in HS so they leave early to coach a sports team or volunteer in the drama department at school. Some have no kids but train for marathons or work as a youth mentor. Some just take a yoga class in the morning and roll in whenever. They all work a 50-55 hour week, but they have quite a bit of flexibility as to how and when that work gets done. Maybe two or three nights a month they stay past 8 pm; usually due to a crises or a conference call with Asia where it's morning.

    All of them came from BigLaw; all took a pay cut to be here; nobody has left the group voluntarily in at least 5 years (probably longer... I could look it up.) We would not hire someone who didn't have a big firm on the resume; but they don't have to stay there too long for them to be useful to us. If you're looking for quality of life or even control over your calendar, you will not find it as an associate at a big firm.
  • nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
    I was reading the other thread "Hours of a Lawyer" and often times it was mentioned that 100 hour weeks were uncommon, etc. However, the billable hours were from 2200+. Will there be a difference in terms of hours and strenuousity with the firm I'm looking into, which requires 1900 for a bonus? I don't know how reliable it is, but according to Infirmation, the hours worked for an associate were 2208, and the billed average was 1920.

    Cooley, Godward and Kronish.

    It is a 600-attorney firm, if that makes a difference.
  • sallyawpsallyawp Registered User Posts: 2,059 Senior Member
    It has been my experience that firms that bill themselves as "lifestyle firms" or that otherwise pay a lot of lip service to the balanced lives that you would lead as an associate there always forget to mention that law is a client service industry. In a client service industry, your hours will largely depend upon the nature and time sensitivity of the matter you are working on as well as the more senior attorneys with whom you are working. So, while a law firm may strive to be friendly to those seeking balance, they fail to provide it in many cases because sometimes you simply need to work nights and weekends to please the clients or to get the volume of work sitting on your plate done.

    I don't know whether you can make any assumptions about a law firm based upon its billable hour threshhold for bonuses, because they are merely setting the bottom rung of what is expected. I know that many have no trouble meeting and surpassing by a large margin these bottom rung billable hour numbers. In fact, there are also many firms, including some of those which notoriously work their associates the hardest (e.g. Cravath, Wachtell, Sullivan & Cromwell), which have no minimum billable hours requirements at all and which pay the same bonus to all of their associates in each class (at least until the very senior associate years) regardless of the number of hours billed. Some firms may do a better job of managing client expectations -- which basically means saying "no" a lot, but clients are paying a ton of money per hour to use these biglaw firms (who in turn pay their junior associates a huge sum of money) and the clients typically don't care which hours of the day are used to get the work done (i.e. midnight versus noon).

    Look -- the reality is that if you want to work on securities law, for example, and you choose to do that work at a "lifestyle firm" (I won't name any names here), that IPO will likely require you to work many long nights and weekends (and many overnight times at the printer) because it is just the nature of that work. If instead you are working on a matter that the law firm just became involved in on a Wednesday afternoon, and the law firm needs to report back to the client on Monday, you will likely have to get your work done for review by the senior associate/partner by Friday afternoon, which may mean late nights for you on Wednesday and Thursday, as unforeseen as those late nights may have been on Wednesday morning.

    In addition, many associates experience slow times, where they may bill under 200 hours in a month, as well as busy times, where they bill over 300 hours in a month. There is little control over when either occurs. I think that it is unrealistic to go to work at a biglaw firm, where the paychecks are big and bright and shiny, and to expect to work from one set time until another five days a week with a given number of weekend hours. Biglaw hours are almost always unpredictable as a junior associate.
  • nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
    Okay, thanks. I guess that's what Cooley and so many other law firms in my area are doing-- promoting their firm as "Oh, don't worry, we want you to have a life AND a rewarding career."

    Thanks everyone, I think now I know exactly what I wanted to.
This discussion has been closed.