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To start with, let’s admit that 3,000 billable hours a year is an attainable target for a young and energetic lawyer. It can be done, honestly, though it would leave much to be desired regarding the human state of existence. However, 3000 billable hours as a law-firm wide quota is somewhat unrealistic, as it is not attainable by average methods and by average people. Last year in December 2011, a lawyer sued his law firm based in California. The matter was covered in the ABA Journal, and the lawyer accused the law firm of diluting its billing, and/or forcing associates and employees to commit billing fraud with such a high quota. In this case, Mr. Unitans sparked off a storm of reactions across the country holding that 3,000 billable hours was attainable but abominable unless ‘creative billing’ was involved. This article is not about ‘creative billing,’ but about whether billing 3,000 hours a year is possible, and what it takes to get there.
The mathematics of 3000 billable hours – why it seems impossible
According to the news covering the case of Richard Unitan published by ABA Journal; “A 3,000-hour billable requirement would require working about eight hours a day, every day of the year.” This statement is incorrect.
Actually, to bill 3000 hours would mean “billing” eight hours a day, every day of the year. However, having eight billable hours a day usually means you need to work about 12-14 hours a day, every day of the year. So that sentence should have read, “A 3,000-hour billable requirement would require working about 12-14 hours a day, every day of the year.”
Under normal circumstances, considering a 5-day workday week and that there are 52 weeks in a year, 3000 billable hours would mean logging 12 billable hours a day, and that would then entail working 14-16 hours a day, every day of the 5-day workday week, for all 52 weeks of the year. Not a pretty prospect.
As an internet commenter observed: “Billing 3,000 hours should trigger an ethics investigation. More than 3,500 hours should trigger an ethics investigation with a rebuttable presumption of guilt.”
However, the response to the above commenter was: “You are assuming that these people don’t work 14 hours a day. That is a dangerous assumption … I’ve done it for 3 years. It is terrible, but it is doable without being unethical. You just never see your family, the sun, and have a vitamin D deficiency.”
How to manage billing 3000 hours a year without being unethical
A number of attorneys maintain that it is quite possible to bill 3000 hours a year without being unethical provided one does proper time management, schedules things properly, does not sit idle waiting for feedbacks or responses from other attorneys, get engaged in document review, and make trade-offs with family priorities.
According to some, billing 3000 hours is quite possible when you are working in a big law firm. Additionally, the firm must have a well-paid and trained day and night staff to avoid time wastage on administrative issues.
Not counting the time for commuting, which varies from person to person according to location, it is possible to leave home at 6:30 am and return by 7:30 pm (counting half an hour commuting to the office and back each time). Solo practitioners are known to work much longer hours, and it does not necessarily involve dishonesty, but it does involve dedicated hard work.
However, there is a need to manage time and cut down on the non-billable hours within the day. Also studying law and staying up to date comes either in the course of work or in late hours.
Is 3000 billable hours doable? Always. Time management, prioritizing, using assistants to their best effect, maintaining calendars, and even keeping working on the notepad while going to, returning from, and waiting for your scheduled doctor’s appointment is going to help along. Any average solo practitioner needs to work an average of 70 hours a week, though they do not bill for those 70 hours. It can be done much better when you have a supportive family that understands your needs.
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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.