Billable Hours

Years ago, I handled a pro bono case for a client unable to afford legal services. (I actually handled a fair number of pro bono cases, but I’m choosing to describe just one here.) The client was a very nice guy, and he desperately needed legal services. But he had no idea how to use a lawyer cost-effectively and, because he wasn’t paying for my services, he had no incentive to restrain himself. The guy called incessantly, asked endless questions, and was always trying to schedule meetings with me. I mentioned the situation to one of my senior colleagues, and the colleague’s reaction was immediate: “What that client needs is a bill.”

During the decades when I served as outside counsel representing clients, I noticed that some of my clients permitted me to do their work efficiently and others affirmatively obstructed that effort. Now that I’m an in-house lawyer, I’m thinking about the other side of that coin: What should I, in my role as client, do to permit outside counsel to represent me efficiently?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: Inflating Your Own Outside Legal Spend”

Here’s a puzzle for you. What decade am I discussing in the following paragraphs?

I’m doing something a little different here. The entire text of this column appears before the jump. I’ve hidden only the citations after the jump. Ponder while you read these paragraphs when the source materials supporting these words were written:

The excessive cost of legal services is not a function of the economy that will abate as the recession finally fades. In the words of one recent report, “Don’t fool yourselves that when the recession passes things will return to normal.” That report quoted the general counsel of a major financial institution as saying, “The way we are now is the way it is now, not a temporary situation . . . . [I]n the [decade omitted] we’re going to see straight hourly billing die.”

Surveys confirm the concerns about the high cost of legal services. For example, in a [year omitted] general counsel survey conducted by [the firm you know as PriceWaterhouseCoopers], a majority of the 350 respondents agreed that “legal fees have gotten out of control and are crippling businesses,” and pressure to reduce costs was a “major theme” of the survey responses. Surveys of corporate law departments conducted by Endispute, Inc. in [two years omitted] reveal that a third of the respondents faced actual cuts in their legal budgets and that, as the size of the legal departments increased, so too did the pressure to reduce legal costs. A [year omitted] Louis Harris survey of executives and legal officers of Fortune 500 service corporations reveals cost containment as a top priority for law departments, and a survey of major corporate clients in the United Kingdom demonstrates that this is now a worldwide issue.

The pressure to move away from standard billing, based on the billable hour, is likely to increase. Indeed, [name omitted], the recently appointed general counsel of [company name omitted], is leading an intense campaign to adopt alternative billing mechanisms. Her efforts have been broadly publicized and resulted in a highly visible panel at the [year omitted] ABA meeting.

In what years did these things occur? What decade are we discussing? And who the heck was the recently appointed general counsel of what company? Those citations and more after the jump….

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Are your in-house working hours recently rivaling the billable hours you thought you had permanently discarded? Is your workload getting way too heavy — i.e., it’s really getting difficult to watch Glee on a timely basis? Do you find yourself working on pretty much the same form of contract over and over and over and over and over and over and over, ad infinitum?

It may be time to take a break and evaluate the problem of Low-Value Work.

What’s Low-Value Work? It’s work that has three main characteristics….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Moonlighting: Low-Value Work (or, How to Catch Up on Glee)”

At large law firms around the country, associates and counsel are eagerly awaiting their bonuses. But partners and chief financial officers have their minds on other things: namely, collections. The fourth quarter is when firms step up their efforts at shaking down clients for cash.

As we all know from the law-and-economics reasoning that was taught to us in law school, people — yes, this includes lawyers — respond to incentives. At one leading law firm, bonus anxiety is being shrewdly harnessed in service of collections efforts.

CHECK YOU TIME SHEETS….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “You Want Your Bonus? We Want Your Time Sheets.”

With Thanksgiving just a week away, turkey may already be on your mind. But hopefully so are family, friends, and a time to reflect on what you are thankful for this year. If you’re having trouble with that last part, the Career Center has put together a list of the top 4 reasons Biglaw associates can be thankful for their jobs this holiday season.

1. Next up, bonus season. Most of you have actually been feeling quite optimistic that bonuses will be bigger than last year’s combined year-end bonus plus spring bonus. Of course, we’ll have to wait until Cravath makes the first move to see whether there’s any truth to those predictions, but at least you know there will be bonuses to be had.

So what else made the list?

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Reema N. Bajaj

Next week, Reema Bajaj, the comely Illinois attorney who has been accused of prostitution, will celebrate her 26th birthday. (You can look up her date of birth on the DeKalb County criminal docket.)

But how happy will that birthday be? There’s a cloud looming over this lovely lawyer….

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Last week, we asked you to report on how many hours you were on track to bill in 2011. Well, the results are in, and damn, people out there in Biglaw have been working like dogs.

I hope there is a big bonus payoff for all the hours people have been billing.

I also hope that people are still finding time to live their life. One commenter disturbingly said, “I’m currently at 2650 for the year. I was hoping to get to 3000 by year-end, although it will be a stretch.”

I think that this commenter is bragging that he’s on pace to kill himself. But all around Biglaw, people are putting in time…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Hours Results: Y’All Been Working Really Hard”

We’re doing this a little bit late this year. We’re into the fourth quarter and we haven’t yet asked you guys: how many hours are you on track to bill this year?

It’s an important question.

Remember firm leadership has already started trying to manage expectations about 2011 bonuses.

And between the natural inclination to keep as much money as possible and prudent concerns over a double-dip recession, many firms will want to hold the line on associate bonuses.

But that’s going to be harder to do if people have been busting their tails…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Hours Open Thread: How Are Your 2011 Billables?”

We enjoy giving our readers the occasional peek behind the Biglaw curtain. Last month, for example, we shared with you the internal interview manual that Sullivan & Cromwell provides to its attorneys who conduct on-campus interviews at law schools.

Today, in a similar spirit, we take an inside look at the annual review process for attorneys at Skadden Arps. We’re into the fourth quarter of 2011, so these reviews are not far away.

In this special report, we’ll provide general observations on the Skadden review process, highlight noteworthy comments from leaked attorney evaluations, and show you a few reviews in their entirety (redacted to remove lawyer and client names). This information should interest Biglaw associates who want to know what partners look for junior lawyers, and it should also appeal to partners at other firms who want ideas on how to structure annual reviews.

If you’re interested in learning more about performance reviews at one of the world’s biggest and best law firms, please keep reading….

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Occasionally it’s fun to see what non-lawyers think about the profession. Yes, we know they “hate” lawyers because, well, most people don’t like getting screwed out of alimony or dealing with insurance companies. But it can be interesting to remember just how little non-lawyers understand about the legal profession.

They don’t even really understand why lawyers get paid.

The other day, there was a good question on Quora: “Why are lawyers so expensive even with the excess supply of lawyers?”

You kind of love clients who bitch about the high price of lawyers, yet wouldn’t take a phone call from one of the thousands of unemployed or underemployed lawyers who are begging for work.

But, sure, some lawyers are still highly priced — maybe even overpriced — despite an excess supply of lawyers in general.

Let’s see if any of the lawyers here can actually give some helpful answers to this question….

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