Billable-hour requirements are generally like the price of gas: they just keep going up. A law professor might compare it to a one-way ratchet. As law firms try to increase their profitability — by doing more work with less manpower, thanks to recessionary layoffs that haven’t been completely reversed — they ask more and more of their lawyers. Right?

Well, not necessarily. One Biglaw firm recently lowered its hours requirement — and instituted some other perks worth noting.

Might other firms follow suit? Perhaps yours?

The firm in question is Bingham McCutchen. From a Bingham source:

Bingham called an “all associates” meeting [yesterday] morning with an agenda that included the rather ominous topic of “adjusting” benefits. (The last time our benefits were adjusted, it was because the firm realized it was paying a larger share of our insurance premiums than other large firms. That was immediately corrected.)

The meeting turned out to be an incredibly pleasant surprise. The following adjustments were made:

1. Vacation policy changed. Email pasted below. Note the four-week increase in paid parental leave. This applies to both parents (and, yes, we’ve had male associates take parental leaves). Obviously, this also negatively impacts associates leaving the firm since there will no longer be a pay-out for unused time.

Having a flexible rather than fixed amount of vacation time is the modern trend. See, e.g., Seyfarth Shaw; Sedgwick.

2. New benefit that pays adoption or surrogacy fees.

This is great — and especially helpful for LGBT lawyers, who turn to adoption or surrogacy more often than their straight colleagues. Bingham has a strong track record when it comes to supporting its LGBT attorneys. It is, for example, one of the Biglaw firms that provides the tax offset for health benefits provided to same-sex domestic partners or spouses (aka the “gay gross-up”). Not surprisingly, Bingham has a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (along with 54 other major law firms).

3. Billable hours reduced. Bingham’s old system is difficult to explain, but essentially you needed to bill 2100 hours, 150 of which could be “creditable” hours like participating in recruitment, serving on committees and attending training. The “creditable” hours fell into different buckets, some of which capped out at 50 hours per year. The hours requirement has been reduced to 2000 hours, 100 of which can be creditable. However, attending mandatory trainings is no longer creditable. Overall, these still seems like an hours reduction since I can’t imagine too many associates were spending 100 hours per year on training.

“I think associates in my office were pleased by the changes,” a Bingham tipster told us. “Not sure what the reaction is firm-wide.”

All in all, these changes sound like good news for Bingham lawyers. If you’d like to read the fine print on the new policies — perhaps your firm is contemplating similar moves? — you can check out the three memos on the next page.


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