Firm Decides To Put Billable Hours On Hold
The cry that the billable hour is dead or makes little sense seems to go up every year with little action taken, but Ford & Harrison, a good-sized firm in Atlanta, has taken the idea to heart and decided to suspend its minimum billable hour requirement for first year associates. The firm claims that first year associates will have more time to train without worrying about whether they meet the billable minimums. As such they will be able “to spend their time observing depositions and witness interviews and attending hearings and litigation strategy meetings.” If it works, the idea should keep clients happy as well (a stated goal of the program). The firm pays $125,000 for incoming associates which is less than the $160,000 large firms in larger markets pay. Still I wonder whether a large firm could emulate the model to its advantage. Of course the cost of law school and living costs in a large city matter, but I wonder whether a first year would take the lower pay if it meant less billable hours and more training.
Now, before law students get excited by the idea of less work, consider that the amount of work could be the same or even increase. The key difference is the quality of the work may improve. After all those who end up on a year-long document review could bill eight to ten hours a day, be paid well, and have less stress. In contrast, the model Ford & Harrison is using is based on medical training. Those folks are paid much less, work quite hard, and then are rewarded with more of the same if they want to specialize. I think the analog to medicine has flaws (for one thing patient and client management do not map onto to each other all that well). Nonetheless, the idea that one could have a slightly more sane life, enjoy the job, and not worry that the learning and training one must have in the first year—if not years—of practice were somehow counterproductive, is a great one. Hopefully, Ford & Harrison will lead the way. It’s an idea to watch.