Biglaw, Billable Hours, Paralegals

Shocking — Or Not — Tales of Wasteful Biglaw Billing

Associates waste lots of time because senior lawyers are absolutely terrible managers. It’s not totally their fault. They think that a prestigious law degree means they’re an expert at everything. So armed with an irrelevant skill set, a complete lack of management training, and a hefty chunk of hubris, lawyers roll into personnel management sure that they know something by gut that business leaders endure hours and hours of MBA classes, Dale Carnegie seminars, and Six Sigma trainings to figure out.

Anyway, this leads to massive amounts of wasted time. The hours usually get (at least partially) billed and clients are savvy enough to know they deserve a write-off — but just how would they react if they knew exactly how their $500/hour was being spent?

Here are just a few tales of the wasted time billed to clients. Maybe you have some that top these?

Coming at us from Reply All is the conversation thread While My DTE Was Running (for those of you lucky enough not to have to track billable hours, DTE is one of the standard timekeeping applications):

My personal favorite illustration was Christmas time two years ago when a senior associate at our firm called to ask me “If I had time.” This guy was notoriously a little pill to work with — just who I wanted to be with during my holiday weekend.

This lawyer had me stay around all night just in case he needed some edits, things he could have easily given to the Doc Services folks who were paid to stay there all night. But oh no, this jackass’ misery needed some company, some $400 an hour company.

There’s an unwritten rule in biglaw that, if you’re at the office after 6pm (for some it’s 6:30 or 7pm) waiting for work to come in, even if you’re not actually working you still bill your time.

So I stayed at the office all night watching Thursday Night Foobtall, a few movies on Netflix, talking to my girlfriend and dozing off. The corrections came in at 2:30, I turned the changes in fifteen minutes, fought with this moron for 15 minutes more and then took a cab home on the client’s bill. Assholio told me to be in first thing in the morning by 8am. Even though I had nothing to do from 8am – 10am, I still billed my time, because associates were expected in the office by 10am, and I was coming in earlier than I normally did. I also billed for travel time both ways.

It’s bad enough having to stay late for no reason, but having to watch the Jags? These edits could have just been turned the next morning and saved the client around $3,500, but an insecure associate with no clue about managing people — and worse, whose only understanding of management comes from equally insecure and clueless senior lawyers — ran up the bill for no reason. A healthy contempt for the client doesn’t hurt.

Another commenter chipped in:

One of my fondest memories regarding DTE comes from a colleague who pulled consecutive all nighters closing a deal with opposing counsel in Asia (thus the lack of sleep for all involved). He informed us that he billed all 24 hours in a day. This is really not possible. When asked if he stopped to use the bathroom he replied, “Yeah. I actually had to s*&^ several times. I think it was diarreah from the stress, but I thought about that God d&*% deal every second I was on that toilet.”

The deal was that shitty, huh?

And these are just associate bills. The most egregious mismanagement I ever witnessed in Biglaw dealt with paralegals being held until all hours of the night “in case” a partner needed to make some copies (he never did). Paralegals may be cheaper than associates, but the paralegals (yes, there were two being kept in case one set of copies might be needed) were still billing out at $200/hour. Combined one associate’s worth of billables were killing time for a one-person, 15-second task that never came until 4 a.m., when I ran into them in an empty hallway and sent them home. The partner wasn’t a bad guy — he just had no conception of how people should be managed because he grew up in the Biglaw culture. The client wasn’t billed for the paralegals that night, but it’s almost worse that the partner’s reaction was to waste employee time and write it off rather than plan ahead.

Management courses are filled with unnecessary B.S. — don’t get me wrong — but you can’t find the gems buried in the years of accumulated experience without wading through the whole package. If you’re a partner, definitely sample some management training, rather than assuming you know best because you got an A in Torts 30 years ago at Harvard. And if you’re an associate, you should try some training as well, just to break the cycle of wasteful on-the-job training at the hands of Biglaw seniors.

While my DTE was running [Reply All]

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