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Yale Law School: The Truth About the Billable Hour

https://law.yale.edu/truth-about-bi llable-hour-0 bizzybone131309/04/18
This should be required reading for all individuals interest jd4hire09/05/18
Right and that's IF you have the credentials for these sorts 6figuremistake09/05/18
Not sure credentials relate much to whether you have to bill jd4hire09/05/18
Well, I meant if you can get an attorney position (not doc r 6figuremistake09/05/18
True that. I came out in 2011...the market sucked then and jd4hire09/05/18
I've had jobs that required very strict record-keeping in si williamdrayton09/05/18
Man, I used to take that full hour lunch and then some. Now jd4hire09/06/18
The article though mostly correct, also leaves out other are thirdtierlaw09/05/18
Billing and reviewing invoices is my biggest time sink. midlaw09/05/18
It drives me crazy each month. I keep trying to find a way t thirdtierlaw09/05/18
Most people would be happy to have a commute of only 30 minu brokelawyer09/05/18
TBF, the article mentions both a 30-minute and 1-hour commut wutwutwut09/05/18
7 mins if I get two red lights lol jmoney09/05/18
I'm a fed. agency atty. and several times have been called o porochi09/06/18
If you bill .1 hours for reading each email and then bill an actionbronson09/06/18
I don't really buy this either. 1) Your retainer agreeme anothernjlawyer09/06/18
The value of point #4 cannot be overstated. The article is pauperesq09/06/18
Also, travel time. Your retainer should specify that travel anothernjlawyer09/06/18
The problem is that lawyers are just a bit too eager to make actionbronson09/07/18
bizzybone1313 (Sep 4, 2018 - 11:44 pm)

https://law.yale.edu/truth-about-billable-hour-0

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jd4hire (Sep 5, 2018 - 10:23 am)

This should be required reading for all individuals interested in attending law school and current ls students.

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6figuremistake (Sep 5, 2018 - 11:00 am)

Right and that's IF you have the credentials for these sorts of jobs in the first place.

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jd4hire (Sep 5, 2018 - 12:42 pm)

Not sure credentials relate much to whether you have to bill. I went to a T-4 LS and ended up in midlaw billing in six-minute increments.

My understanding is that if you do defense work (or family, crim, wills and estates), there is a solid chance you'll bill by the hour. Sure there are flat fees, but if you do ID work, it will be bill by the hour, regardless of big, mid or small law.

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6figuremistake (Sep 5, 2018 - 2:41 pm)

Well, I meant if you can get an attorney position (not doc review, legal sales, etc.) The economy has gotten better, so maybe this isn't as challenging as it was during the downturn. Nonetheless, I imagine a Yale article had BigLaw in mind - "sure, you'll make a lot but it'll cost you a reasonable work/life balance".

That said, yes, if you do end up stuck in a system with this taxing business model but without the accompanying big paycheck, that may be the worst fate of all.

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jd4hire (Sep 5, 2018 - 5:35 pm)

True that. I came out in 2011...the market sucked then and still sucks now. I was lucky though as I have not done doc review or legal sales.

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williamdrayton (Sep 5, 2018 - 5:56 pm)

I've had jobs that required very strict record-keeping in six minute increments yet paid less than $60k.

having said that, truth that this article was designed for aspiring biglaw folks.

BTW, who takes a full hour for lunch? unless you're a rainmaker trying to wine and dine (prospective) clients

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jd4hire (Sep 6, 2018 - 9:03 am)

Man, I used to take that full hour lunch and then some. Now I'm 10 minute lunches at my desk...

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thirdtierlaw (Sep 5, 2018 - 12:17 pm)

The article though mostly correct, also leaves out other areas that "billable" time is lost. I.e. doing the billing itself, time to transition from 1 case file to the other, etc. I understand why they are left off because they are only "short" periods of time. However, those lost .1s do add up over the year.

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midlaw (Sep 5, 2018 - 6:13 pm)

Billing and reviewing invoices is my biggest time sink.

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thirdtierlaw (Sep 5, 2018 - 7:23 pm)

It drives me crazy each month. I keep trying to find a way to further streamline the process, but at this point I think it is as good as it'll get.

It really should be enjoyable because "hey! I'm getting paid!" But the tedious nature and how long it takes to complete just drains all the joy out of it.

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brokelawyer (Sep 5, 2018 - 12:56 pm)

Most people would be happy to have a commute of only 30 minutes—the amount given in the article.

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wutwutwut (Sep 5, 2018 - 3:40 pm)

TBF, the article mentions both a 30-minute and 1-hour commute.

Mine's 18 minutes, most days.

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jmoney (Sep 5, 2018 - 11:54 pm)

7 mins if I get two red lights lol

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porochi (Sep 6, 2018 - 2:01 am)

I'm a fed. agency atty. and several times have been called on to assist DOJ when challenging opposing counsel's fees. I get stuck with the thankless task of picking through their billable hours looking for ways we can challenge them. This has turned into a weird bureaucratic law practice and I'm quite good at picking apart billable hours. So beware if you sue the federal govt., wonks like me lie in wait to attack your billables. We usually get them reduced and DOJ can be willing to go to the mat in court to challenge them, so don't be greedy. Judges don't like to see 3 partners and 4 associates all bill the same amount of hours for drafting one Complaint, for instance. Or bill one hour for reading a couple of emails. Judges hate getting into the weeds with fee challenges so usually they'll just say, reduce the hours by 10-20% across the board and be done with it.

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actionbronson (Sep 6, 2018 - 3:27 pm)

If you bill .1 hours for reading each email and then bill another .1 (at least) for responding to it, and you get a couple of dozen substantive emails a day, I don't really buy that it takes an average of 10 actual work hours to bill an average of 7.5 hours. And it's rare that I (or any other lawyer I know) take anywhere near hour long lunches on a regular basis. I only do that if I go out to lunch, which happens once or twice a month at most.

I work in government, not at a law firm so I don't have a billable requirement, although I do have to keep track of time spent on each task. I can usually bill 8 hours in a day doing 9 to 5 and maybe spending some time at home going over materials for the next day or doing some extra research.

I don't know anyone in non-biglaw who regularly works more than 9 hours a day and they don't seem to have much trouble meeting or exceeding their billable requirements.

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anothernjlawyer (Sep 6, 2018 - 4:27 pm)

I don't really buy this either.

1) Your retainer agreement should have minimum time increments spelled out for specific tasks. Maybe it's .1 for administrative tasks (updating your calendar, etc.), .1 for reviewing emails, .1 for responding to emails, .2 for phone calls, .3 for preparation of correspondence, 2.5 for court appearance, etc.. It should also say that time will be rounded up to the next minimum time increment for that task, where the first minimum time increment is exceeded. If you're an associate, find out exactly what your firm's billing policies are, so you know what you can and cannot do.

2) Write down every. single. thing. you do. It doesn't matter how brief or perfunctory it is. This is especially the case when you work on a lot of different things in 1 day. Billing slips are great, because you don't have to log into a billing program or open a new window on your computer every time you take a quick phone call or respond to an email.

3) Let's say you're in the middle of spending an hour writing a brief for client A. During that hour, you take a 2 minute phone call from client B. You then extend the time you work on the brief for client A to 1 hour and 2 minutes (i.e., so you've worked the full 1.0 for client A) and then bill client B the minimum time increment (0.2) for the 2 minute phone call. You've now billed 1.2 hours in 62 minutes. You do this 1500 times during the year, and you’re respectable at 1800 hours instead of looking for a new job at 1500.

4) Let’s say that you have to go to court for client A, and you end up waiting 20 minutes for your case to get called. There’s nothing you can or need to be doing on client A’s matter during that time. You spend a total of 2 hours on the court appearance, door to door. You spend the 20 minutes you had to wait reviewing and responding to 6 emails from clients B, C, D, E, F, and G. You bill client A the 2.5 minimum time increment for a court appearance and you also bill clients B-G 0.2 each for reviewing and responding to their emails. You’ve now billed 3.7 hours in 2 hours, in a way that is consistent with your retainer agreements, not padding your timeslips, and not cheating anybody.


5) You handle traffic tickets for a flat fee of $500.00. You have 10 cases that come in for the month of X. You call the Court clerk and schedule all 10 cases for the same court session. You’re a lawyer, so your cases get called first, and you are out of court in 90 minutes, having billed $5,000.00.

6) Let’s say it’s the night before your big appellate argument. You’re sitting on the toilet for 20 minutes, rehearsing your opening statement in your head. You don’t have the file in front of you but it’s the only thing on your mind for that period of time. You’re getting ready. Do you bill it? At the end of the day, your client is paying for your mental processes, and the translation of those processes into tangible format (i.e., writing or oral advocacy). I don’t think I’ve ever actually written a billing slip under those circumstances, but I think it would be OK to do so.

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pauperesq (Sep 6, 2018 - 4:51 pm)

The value of point #4 cannot be overstated. The article is mostly correct but fails to take into account the double-billing opportunities afforded from waiting around in court, before a meeting, at a mediation, etc. Those .1s you lose throughout the day BSing with colleagues can easily be recovered checking emails while waiting for the judge to take the bench.

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anothernjlawyer (Sep 6, 2018 - 5:01 pm)

Also, travel time. Your retainer should specify that travel time will be billed at regular rate.

Let's say you travel an hour each way to a 3 hour deposition for client A, making the door-to-door time 5 hours. During the 2 hours of driving, you have phone calls with clients B, C, and D. You bill them each .2 for the calls, meaning you've billed 5.6 hours in 5 hours of actual time.

The caveat is that, if you are on client A's clock and there is work you could done for client A, that has to come first. For example, don't take calls from clients B, C, and D while you are driving back, and then bill client A for a call you make back at the office that you could have made on the road.

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actionbronson (Sep 7, 2018 - 12:12 pm)

The problem is that lawyers are just a bit too eager to make themselves out to be martyrs. I agree that the profession can be stressful and that keeping track of billing and making sure you bill sufficient hours can be stressful. With that said, most of us simply aren't putting in 10+ hour days with any regularly. Most lawyers I know seem to have sufficient time for family and hobbies and, at least outwardly, do not appear any more miserable than those in other professions. Even the one or two Biglaw folks I know don't look like they are chained to their desks for every waking hour.

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