Lawyers like to complain about the billable hours requirements at their firms. A common question seems to be what will count and what won’t. In this line of work, time is money, and many associates want to know if they’re wasting their time.

If the firm makes you go to a professional development event, are you losing out on hours? If you get wrangled into doing pro bono work, are your weekly billables for paid clients going to plummet? And will that ultimately get reflected in your bonus check?

Yesterday, we lamented the fact that we often report on depressing news about the state of the legal profession in this country. Today, we actually have some good news. Jenner & Block realized that their lawyers shouldn’t be toiling away in their dungeons offices and forgoing pro bono opportunities in order to meet their billable hours requirements.

The firm remembered that this profession is supposed to be about helping the less fortunate, and it has adjusted its policies accordingly….

We received this tip from a reader about the policy change at Jenner & Block:

Jenner & Block announced [Wednesday] that a major firm policy change will occur. My first year associate friend is overjoyed.

All work counts. Pro bono, non-pro bono firm work, everything counts towards the billable. They are raising the billable target by 100 hours to 2100, but everything counts.

When we reached out to the firm, the news was confirmed by managing partner Susan C. Levy:

Susan C. Levy

We have not increased our billable hour expectation, which remains the same. What has changed is that we have given full-time associates an annual target of 2100 and all billable, pro bono and most Firm hours (professional and business development, service on Firm Committees, participating in Firm activities) will be considered towards the 2100 hours.

Under our new policy, all pro bono hours and all approved Firm hours count toward our annual target of 2100. Our previous policy provided that only 50 pro bono hours counted. That policy has been replaced. Our new policy – counting all pro bono and approved Firm hours – better reflects our Firm’s extraordinary commitment to client service (paying or pro bono), public service and professional development.

This sounds pretty great. Maybe associates will actually have time to sleep in their Duxiana beds at their neglected apartments for once.

Or perhaps they’ll have more incentive to work on pro bono matters — an area of strength for Jenner historically. Last year, the firm was honored by the American Lawyer as the number one firm in the country for pro bono work, for the third year in a row. We previously wrote about a noteworthy Jenner pro bono matter, in which then-associate Lindsay Harrison got to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court — in a case that she ultimately won.

Let’s turn to our readers for comment. Did Jenner & Block just start a trend? Are there any fine-print aspects to this policy that should be noted? How does the new and improved Jenner approach compare to what your firm does?

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of law firm billable hours


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