Ever since I stopped billing by the hour in 2006, lawyers are constantly asking me, “How do you set your prices?” It’s a topic I’ve lectured on and written about frequently, and my new consulting firm, Prefix, LLC, focuses on teaching lawyers how to do it for themselves. But today, I want to turn the question around:
How do you set your billing rates?
It’s an important question, and one you should know the answer to.
I know what the books on starting your own firm say (I’ve read them). Most of them come up with a formula along these lines: Decide how much profit you want to make in a year, add your estimated annual overhead, then divide the sum by the number of hours you think you can bill in a year. That’s your hourly rate.
That’s not how anyone sets their billing rates, regardless of what the books say. Instead, their rates are based on three factors.…
If work is slow and you need a good chunk of hours to meet your billable target or to be eligible for a bonus, what’s your best bet for boosting your billables?
According to the 884 respondents to Tuesday’s survey, pro bono work. About 68% of respondents say their firms give billable credit for at least some pro bono hours. On the other hand, only 12% of respondents say that their firms count client/business development activities as billable time, although another 15% report that these hours may affect bonus decisions.
What are some of the other popular billable activities?
Lately, many of you have been quite the busy billers, even working on MLK Day and Presidents Day. What undoubtedly keeps most associates on the clock on holidays (and pretty much every day of the year) is client billable work.
But are there other kinds of activities for which your firm will give you billable hour credit? Take our short survey, brought to you by Lateral Link, and tell us what counts as billable time at your firm. Then check back later this week for the survey results.
I live near Wellesley, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb usually described with words like “leafy” and “tony.” (I get “leafy,” but I’ve never really figured out “tony.”) Think soccer moms in yoga pants and BMW SUVs. On the edge of town, where it is less leafy and tony, there is a small tailor shop. The owners are immigrants; English is not their first language. This is clear from the computer-printed signs on their windows and walls. My favorite sign is the one behind the register:
“YOU NEVER LOOKED SO EXPENSIVE!!”
(Unnecessary quotation marks and extra exclamation point included.) I’m not exactly sure what they were trying to say. Maybe expensive wasn’t the word they were going for. Good? Chic? Tony? I don’t know. But the amusing phrase has stuck with me, and with many of my neighbors. I’m not even sure of the name of the shop, but everyone knows what I mean when I mention the sign. It’s a tailor-shop meme.
And a good one. In fact, I’d like to see small-firm lawyers make a similar sign and tape it to their mirrors. (Yeah, I know. I’m not a mirror-message taper either. But indulge me here.) Because the tailor-shop meme might remind them not to make the single biggest mistake that small-firm lawyers usually make: pricing their services too low….
After a year like 2009 (aka the worst year ever for Biglaw), 2010 was bound to be better. According to the nearly 1,000 survey responses we received, 2010 did in fact turn out to be a busier year for most associates. An impressive 73% of respondents hit their firm’s minimum billable hours requirements or unofficial billable hours expectations, which ranged from 1,600 to 2,200 billable hours. You can find a breakdown of the results by minimum billable hours required or expected, as well as by practice area, after the jump.
Stay tuned for our next post, addressing associate satisfaction with 2010 bonus payments. In the meantime, you can learn more about billable hours and bonuses at the nation’s top law firms on the Career Center, hosted by Lateral Link.
By most accounts, law firms had a stronger year in 2010 than in 2009 (although you wouldn’t know it from the disappointing bonuses that many of them paid out). Did a busier year translate into plenty of billables for all associates? In this week’s survey, we want to know whether you met your firm’s minimum billable hours requirement (or unofficial billable hours expectation), and how happy you are with your bonus for the amount of hours you billed.
Please take our short survey below (we keep responses completely confidential), and we’ll bring you the results next week. In the meantime, you can compare billable hours requirements between the leading law firms at the Career Center, hosted by Lateral Link.
Also, in case you missed them because of the holiday break, be sure to check out his recent posts on in-house compensation and bonuses.
First, a story. Then, my point.
(If I promise a point at the end, maybe you’ll persevere through the story.)
When I was a partner at a large law firm, sending out bills, I took the job seriously. I sat in a coffee shop one Sunday afternoon each month and went through every !*@!! time entry in every bill to be sure that (1) I could understand what task the lawyer had performed and (2) the time spent was not disproportionate to the work performed. Only then would I approve the bill.
Editing bills is like torture. In fact, strike the “like.” This is torture. At the end of three or four hours of editing bills, you’re ready to jam toothpicks into your eyes. So I took a lesson from Tom Sawyer and whitewashing fences: I conned my teenage son into thinking that editing bills was a very important job. He bit! (Other than falling for this, the kid is actually pretty smart.) During Jeremy’s sophomore through senior years of high school, he and I did some father-son bonding on the third Sunday of every month at the local coffee shop. I bought the kid a caramel frappuccino (“venti” if we were doing north of 500 grand in bills; otherwise, grande; always with whipped cream). He took half the stack of bills; I took the other half; we edited. (Stay calm. I didn’t charge clients even for my own time spent doing this, let alone the kid’s. This was on the up and up.)
I find it funny that firms that want to skimp on bonuses also expect associates to make sure they are helping the overall health and performance of the firm. At some level, why should associates care if the firm is up to date on its collections? It’s not like that money is going to trickle down to the time keepers once their hours are realized. Hell, we’ve got people in the comments claiming they are going to purposely underbill in order to hurt firms in 2011 for stinginess in 2010.
The firms aren’t wrong to be doing everything they can to get associates to enter in their hours in a timely fashion. Time keeping is more accurate when you do it every day (as opposed to trying to recreate your days at the end of the week or month). Firms are struggling to collect from their clients. And, for what it’s worth, billing hours is part of the job for attorneys. I just find it ironic that firms are trying to pressure their associates to produce more money for them even as they are sharing a smaller percentage of those profits with associates.
It’s pretty clear that being a part of a Biglaw firm isn’t a “team” proposition. Everybody for themselves; that’s how the partners act, and that’s how partners expect associates to act.
And so Hughes Hubbard is bringing a little personal punishment to associates who are late with their time…
Professor Joel P. Trachtman has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!