More billable hours or a happier life?
For countless lawyers, it feels like an impossible choice. Whether they’re keeping their practices afloat or seeking to grow, legal professionals of all kinds struggle to record as much productive time as they need to reach their goals. In fact, the average attorney bills just 2.5 hours per day. And that’s while working full-time—or, in many cases, in excess of 50 or 60 hours per week.
All of which can make time off or “work-life balance” seem like fantasies. It’s perhaps not surprising that lawyers often experience high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
This has led some within the profession, including the State Bar of New York, to call for caps on billable hours, or for firms to adopt different models for measuring attorney productivity.
At issue is not only a person’s well-being but also the ways stress can compromise decision-making, putting a lawyer’s reputation and clients at risk. According to UK-based legal mental health charity LawCare:
Others say the problem isn’t with billable hours, but poor practice management.
Vanderbilt law professor Larry Bridgesmith writes that the legal industry uses billable hours as “scapegoats” for failures to properly scope work and establish trust with clients:
“Billable hours are not to blame. We are.
Who’s we? Those of us in law firm management who have used billable hours on which to base our budgets, incentivize performance, measure success, and identify our heroes.
Fortunately, there are simple steps any attorney can take to improve productivity—and, yes, live a happier life—without taking on more work. Learn how smart legal outsourcing can transform a small or solo practice.
What are your thoughts about billable hours? Should the legal industry rethink performance measurement? Have tips on improving productivity?