Biglaw, Billable Hours, Money, Reader Polls

Associate Hours Open Thread: Did Your Puny Bonuses Result In A Work Slowdown?

It’s June already. Can you believe it? Time sure flies when your wife is pregnant and you have just a few more months to completely reorganize your life into something resembling “serviceable.”

As we approach the midway point of the year, we figure it is a good time to check in on how our readers’ billable hours are looking. Given how low the Cravath bonuses were, and the fact that most firms decided to not pay spring bonuses, one would expect that associates in Biglaw have responded by working as little as possible. Nothing says “you did not share the wealth” like a few months of bare-minimum billing!

I’m joking, of course: associates couldn’t band together to organize a work slowdown any more than a herd of stray cats could go wildebeest hunting. In fact, one of the reasons firms can low-ball bonuses with impunity is because associates are more afraid about losing their jobs to the masses than they are about competing for the highest compensation.

We expect associates are still busting their tails in 2012. But let’s share some horror stories, and take a poll to confirm those suspicions…

One fun thing about billable hours is that no matter how many you’ve worked, there’s always somebody who can say they billed more. A tipster tells us one lawyer’s horror story (and obituary, if this guy’s not careful):

I heard a story today about co-counsel on a huge matter who had worked 410 hours in May. I have every reason to believe it’s true. It got me thinking: how many hours is actually abusive to someone? I mean, if a partner told an associate to work 24 hours straight for 6 straight days, that’d be a problem, yeah? We can probably agree on that. But more realistically, when does an insane workload graduate from just a bad month to something more? Something unconscionable on behalf of the employer?

To put that in context, there are only 744 available hours in the entire month of May (yes Diablo III players, that is a challenge). This guy arguably billed 55% of those hours, and if he was doing so honestly, that means he probably was in and around work for another 100 hours.

Is that abusive? Sure, we could call it that. But here’s the thing: we live in a free country. This guy wasn’t actually a slave. He was free to leave at any time; he was free to not come into work (and pay those consequences). A horse is stupid enough to run until it dies. A man is supposed to know better.

We want to know how many hours people are on track to bill for 2012. Hopefully not many of you are cruising towards a 4920 year because you will die before you get there, and I’ll have to write about you, and then one of your bereaved family members will call me asking why your working yourself to death is “news.”

Many of you are working hard. Some of you are even going above and beyond, even though you know that there’s no extra prize waiting for you if you go the extra mile for your firm or your partner’s clients. For others, maybe 2012 has been one big vacation thus far, as you do just enough to earn your salary, but not enough to deserve the kind of bonus you didn’t get last year anyway.

Just don’t be an idiot. It’s June already — depending on your pace, now might be the perfect time to plan that summer vacation.

Click through to the next page to take our billable hours survey and to see the results from your peers.

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