Back to the Future, Biglaw, Billable Hours

Flashback Friday: Billable Hours In The 1990s

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Labor Day weekend is here. So let’s talk about… labor! In the Biglaw salt mines.

In response to our earlier Flashback Friday posts about associate compensation in the 1990s, we received a few requests for information about billable hours back then. People wanted to know how hard associates had to work back in the day for that $83,000 starting salary.

It’s a good question. You hear anecdotal evidence going in both directions. Sometimes people who have been in the profession for a long time talk about how hard they had to work before technology made things so much easier, recalling the bad old days of never-ending, hard-copy due diligence or document review. On other occasions, though, old timers reminisce about the good old ways when law was more of a profession and less of a business; sure, lawyers earned less, but they had lives — or , at least, better work-life balance.

Which picture holds more truth? Here’s some data….

Unfortunately, it’s not the greatest data — but something is better than nothing, right?

Some explanation. This info comes from a neat book called The Insider’s Guide to Law Firms, which I’ve mentioned before. The Guide stopped publishing around the year 2000 (affiliate link), but I still have some back copies (because I’m a pack rat).

I recently went back to the 1993-94 edition, copyright date 1993, and pulled the information about billable hours from the profiles of certain firms. I’ve pasted that information below, verbatim from the Guide. Why do I think this data isn’t the greatest? If you look at the info below, you’ll see a lot of… weirdness.

You’ll see cases where hours billed and hours worked are equal — which makes no sense, since you can’t bill every hour you work (for a whole host of reasons, practical and ethical). On the flip side, you’ll see cases where unexpectedly large amounts of time — e.g., 600 hours — are being worked and going billed. (I could see an individual lawyer having a year where 600 hours went unbilled — maybe she had a big pro bono case that went to trial, for example — but 600 seems high for the average lawyer to be working and not billing.) You’ll see a lot of faux precision — e.g., “2479 worked; 1991 billed.” And you’ll see what you’d expect to be peer firms in the same city with wildly different billable-hour estimates. Maybe these firms did have different billable-hours averages back in the 1990s, but you will see some cases where the gaps seem… suspicious.

My guess: the weirdness arises out of (1) the Guide’s reliance upon self-reported information from individual lawyers for the billable-hours data, as opposed to official information from the firms themselves, and (2) significant variation in response rates from firm to firm. In some cases, you’ll see an official billable-hours “requirement” or “target” from the firm, and those are probably safe to take as true — but the unofficial estimates should be taken with big crystals of sea salt.

Because of the weirdness of this data — which is, unfortunately, the best data I’m aware of (feel free to email me if you have better sources for this time period) — I don’t want to make too much of it. I don’t want to make general observations or even firm-to-firm comparisons based on it. I’m going to present it here just to (1) give people a general flavor of billable hours back in the 1990s and (2) let people look up their individual firms and see what was being said about hours expectations back then.

Please share your own observations in the comments. For our readers who were at these firms during the relevant time period, feel free to mention in the comments whether the info about your firm comports with your recollection. If you have any follow-up questions or special requests, feel free to email us, and we’ll see what we can do. Thanks!

ATLANTA

Alston & Bird: 1877 billed; 1800 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

King & Spalding: 2479 worked; 1991 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m; junior associates often work until 8 or 9 p.m. and a number of weekends; raises each class year are partially merit-based.

Sutherland Asbill & Brennan: 2400 worked; 1800 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6-7 p.m. (attorneys frequently work later); every other weekend.

Troutman Sanders: 2000 worked; 1800 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 7-7:30 p.m.

BOSTON

Bingham Dana & Gould (now Bingham McCutchen): 2150 worked; 1925 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Fish & Richardson: 1900 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6-6:30 p.m.

Foley Hoag: 1922 worked; 1774 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Goodwin Procter: 2000 worked; 1750 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale): 1880 worked; 1645 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but many work much longer hours.

Ropes & Gray: 2229 worked; 1929 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

CHICAGO

Baker & McKenzie: 2000 worked; 1800 billed; 2000 required; average day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (litigation); 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (corporate).

Jenner & Block: 2426 worked; 2021 billed; 1900 required; average day from 8-9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Jones Day: 2100 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 8-10 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Kirkland & Ellis: 2000 worked; 1950 billed; average day from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Mayer Brown: 2350 worked; 2000 billed; 2000 required; average day from 8:30 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

McDermott Will & Emery: 1900 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 8 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Sidley & Austin: 1841 worked; average day from 8-9 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (now Dentons): 1900 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Winston & Strawn: 2100 worked; 1991 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

DALLAS

Akin Gump: 2150 worked; 2000 billed; 1900 required; average day from 8:45 a.m. to 6 p.m.

HOUSTON

Baker Botts: 2100 worked; 1860 billed.

Fulbright & Jaworski (now Norton Rose Fulbright): 2100 worked; 1850 billed; average day from 8-8:30 a.m. to 5-6 p.m.

Vinson & Elkins: 2245 worked; 1910 billed.

LOS ANGELES

Brobeck Phleger & Harrison (now defunct): 2050 worked; 1875 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Gibson Dunn: 1905 worked; 1877 billed.

Irell & Manella: 1882 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but many attorneys work much longer hours.

Latham & Watkins: 2000 worked; 1900 billed; 1900 required.

Morgan Lewis: 2203 worked; 1942 billed.

Morrison & Foerster: 1800 required.

Munger Tolles: 2000 worked; 2000 billed; average day from 8:30-9:30 a.m. to 7-7:30 p.m.

O’Melveny & Myers: 1867 billed.

Paul Hastings: 1960 worked; 1923 billed; 1900 required; average day from 8:30-9:30 a.m. to 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Sidley & Austin: 2000 worked; 1900 billed; average day 9-9:30 a.m. to 6-7:30 p.m.

Skadden Arps: NA.

NEW YORK

Baker & McKenzie: 2100 required, average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cahill Gordon: NA.

Cleary Gottlieb: 2170 worked; 1850 billed; average day from 9-9:30 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Cravath Swaine & Moore: 2144 worked; 2054 billed.

Davis Polk & Wardwell: NA; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Debevoise & Plimpton: 1850 billed; average day from 9:30-10 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Dewey Ballatine (now defunct): 2100 worked; 1875 billed; 9:30 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Fish & Neave (now part of Ropes & Gray): 2189 worked; 2014 billed; 9:30 a.m. to 7:30-8 p.m.

Fried Frank: NA; average day from 9-10 a.m. to 8-9 p.m.

Hughes Hubbard: 2100 worked; 1800 billed; average day from 9-10 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Jones Day: 2100 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kaye Scholer: 2023 worked; 1843 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

LeBoeuf Lamb (now defunct): 2200 worked; 1836 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Milbank Tweed: NA; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius: 2123 worked; 1932 billed; 9:30 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Patterson Belknap: 2000 worked; 1850 billed; 8:30-9:30 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Paul Weiss: 1875 worked; 1713 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Rogers & Wells (now part of Clifford Chance): 2400 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 9:30-10 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Proskauer Rose: NA worked; NA billed; 2000 required.

[Proskauer wasn’t included for some reason in the 1993-94 guide; this information comes from the 1997 guide.]

Schulte Roth & Zabel: 1950 worked; 1750 billed; 1700 required; average day from 9:45 a.m. to 8 p.m

Shearman & Sterling: 2250 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: 1944 worked; 1865 billed; average day 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Skadden Arps: NA; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later.

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan: 2006 worked; 1906 billed.

Sullivan & Cromwell: NA; average day is 12 hours.

Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz: NA; average day 9-9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Weil Gotshal & Manges: NA; average day from 9-9:30 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

White & Case: NA; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher: NA; average day from 9-9:30 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Winston & Strawn: 2100 worked; 1862 billed; average day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30-8 p.m.

Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts (now Pillsbury Winthrop): 2100 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 9:30-10 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA

Blank Rome: 2000 worked; 1800 billed; 1800 required; average day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Dechert: 1850 billed; average day from 8-9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Drinker Biddle: 1900 worked; 1650 billed.

Duane Morris: 1900-2000 worked; 1750-1800 billed; 1900 required.

Morgan Lewis: 2123 worked; 1956 billed.

Reed Smith: 2200 worked; 1850 billed; 1950 required.

PITTSBURGH

Buchanan Ingersoll: 2150 worked; 2000 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart (now K&L Gates): 2113 worked; 1866 billed; average day from 8-9 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Reed Smith: 1850 worked; average day from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO / PALO ALTO

Brobeck Phleger & Harrison (now defunct): 2138 worked; 1836 billed; average day from 8-8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Cooley: 2520 worked; 1920 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Fenwick & West: 2200 worked; 1850 billed; 1850 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 6-6:30 p.m.

Heller Ehrman (now defunct): 2129 worked; 1711 billed; average day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

McCutchen Doyle (now Bingham McCutchen): 2025 worked; 1869 billed; 1800 required; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6-6:30 p.m.

Morrison & Foerster: 1800 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 6-8 p.m.

Orrick: 2100 worked; 1900 billed; 1850 required; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Pillsbury Madison & Sutro (now Pillsbury Winthrop): 1850 required; average day from 8-8:30 a.m. to 5:30-7 p.m.

Wilson Sonsini: 2050 worked; 1950 billed; average day from 8-9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (routinely later).

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Akin Gump: 2155 worked; 1840 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Arnold & Porter: 2236 worked; 1768 billed.

Covington: 2250 worked; 1900 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 7-7:30 p.m.

Crowell & Moring: 1800 billed; average day from 8:30-9 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Dickstein Shapiro: 1994 worked; 1832 billed; average day from 9-9:30 a.m. to 6:30-7 p.m.

Gibson Dunn: 1905 worked; 1877 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Hogan & Hartson: 2150 worked; 1800 billed; average day from 9-9:30 a.m. to 6-7 p.m.

Howrey & Simon (now defunct): 1975-2050 worked; 1835 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Hunton & Williams: 2292 worked; 1787 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Jenner & Block: 2434 worked; 1995 billed; 1900 required.

Jones Day: 2100 worked; 1900 billed.

Kirkland & Ellis: 2100 worked; 1950 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Patton Boggs (now Squire Patton Boggs): 2229 worked; 1886 billed; 1800 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sidley Austin: 2000 worked; 1800 billed; no minimum required.

Skadden Arps: NA; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Steptoe & Johnson: 2250 worked; 1937 billed; 1900 required; average day from 9 a.m. to 7-7:30 p.m.

Venable: NA.

Williams & Connolly: NA (no formal billable hours requirement).

Wilmer Cutler (now WilmerHale): 2131 worked; 1642 billed; average day from 9 a.m. to 7-8 p.m.

Earlier: Flashback Friday: A Look At Associate Compensation In The 1990s (Part 1)
Flashback Friday: A Look At Associate Compensation In The 1990s (Part 2)
Flashback Friday: The Nation’s 15 Most Prestigious Law Firms — In 2008 And 1998

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