Law in Contemporary Society
This is a little off-topic, but in some ways it relates to Thursday’s conversation regarding time management and stress.

I just read an article in the Times (linked below) that explores the impact of the economy on the billable hour. Much of it tells us what we already know. Mainly, law firms (and their clients) are facing difficult times in the midst of the economic downtown. It goes on to suggest that more firms are considering alternative billing plans (flat rates, smaller fees, etc…). The article caused me to question two things; the first is whether change is really near and the second involves the extent to which law school has trained me to be conscious of my time.

1. Talk is cheap; the billable hour is not

The article initially won my attention because it was listed as one of the most-emailed business stories. It’s funny because in some ways, it is a tired topic. How many times has the need for the elimination of the billable hour been discussed? (hint: a lot, scroll through the wiki posts/papers from last year and you’ll have your evidence). I am a skeptic at heart, but after reading it, I am curious as to whether the state of economy will be the tipping point that causes big firms to actually change their ways.

2. It just took me 23 minutes to write this

I am now being trained in the billable hour mindset. It is a little disturbing to think that I am conscious of my time in a way that I have never been before. Please tell me I am not alone in this. Since Legal Methods, how many of us have found ourselves calculating how long it takes us to read 10 pages of an assignment or carefully outlining how much time we have wasted on Law and Order or G-chat? How conscious are we of every minute a professor lectures over time? Many say attorneys are uptight, boring and often distressed; are we honing these characteristics now?

What do you think? Is the dynasty crumbling for real this time? Is being overly-conscious of one’s time and value a good thing? Is a partner really "worth" 800 dollars an hour???

-- UchechiAmadi - 30 Jan 2009

The idea you've raised of what a lawyer is "worth" is an interesting one to me. I have a friend working at a large firm who, in two heavy months, has billed hours sufficient for his firm to cover his yearly salary from his fees. The discrepancy between the market rate to retain him as an employee and the market rate for his services to clients is such that the firm will be reaping profits from his work for 80% of the year. This will not be uncommon among us in another 2.5 years. So what are we worth? I think it will largely depend on whether we think of our time in number of pages read per hour vs. number of concepts learned per day. It may be the only personally profitable compensation.

-- CarolineElkin - 01 Feb 2009

Is being overly-conscious of one’s time and value a good thing?

That’s a pretty interesting question. I don’t think that being conscious of how much time you spend doing things is bad in and of itself. Maybe it’s because my dad made me read that “Habits of Highly Effective Teens” book, but I’ve felt for awhile that I would be a lot more effective worker if I kept better track of my time. I don’t think that this mindset by itself will result in you being boring and a drag to be around. That probably comes from feeling like all that effort you put into managing your times has gone to waste or resulted in something not worthwhile.

As compared to undergrad I’m definitely more conscious of my time, but I’m not sure that the law school “environment” and the omni-present spectre of the billable hour looming above us is exactly the “cause” of this. The biggest factor is probably just that there’s more work being laid out to do and you have to be more efficient if you want to do it all – and get a decent amount of sleep. Is this just to numb us to the countless hours of hour billing that await 80% of us? Or maybe we can see it as a general training on how to work well quickly when it comes to reading and writing ideas.

The discrepancy between the market rate to retain him as an employee and the market rate for his services to clients is such that the firm will be reaping profits from his work for 80% of the year.

Can you categorize the amount a firm bills for an hour’s worth of time as a “market rate”? Clients aren’t going to be paying him the same amount they pay the firm – most likely the law economy is set up so they wouldn’t pay him at all. Market rate works a lot better to describe his salary since he can probably get a comparable job/salary elsewhere. The money’s definitely at the top though, although you can say this for a whole lot of industries. It might be exemplified by the way the BIGLAW system works, but I’m not sure that it’s a problem endemic to it.

-- JustinChung - 03 Feb 2009

-- JustinChung - 03 Feb 2009

Justin, your point is well-taken. I have no doubt that prior educational experiences mean we are all used to working efficiently and making good use of our time. The point of my ramblings was to say that there seems to be some relationship between the work and attitudes developed now and those that are embraced in the big firm atmosphere. It seems that striking the balance of class work and free time, learning to be (or not be) competitive and being mindful of how much work you are getting done in a high-pressured environment are just a few of the transferable skills.

And yes, being over-conscious of one's time does not seem to directly lead to a boring/distressed persona, but doing so to extremes is certainly problematic. My suggestion is that the billable framework does not skirt the line; it as been acknowledged as extreme time and time again. I have yet to work as an associate at a big firm (and don't know that I ever will), but it is not a stretch of imagination to envision that the stress, counting of the minutes and the constant pressure to be "on" bleed into life outside of work as well.

When it comes down to it, I guess it all depends on what you value: in your personal life, in your career and in who you are as a living, breathing human being. Not everyone embraces a carefree, relaxed nature, but if that is some part of who you are, perhaps you make a conscious choice to let that side of you go when you make a determination as to where you will spend your days and nights.

-- UchechiAmadi - 05 Feb 2009


Is the dynasty crumbling? AboveTheLaw says it is. The comments are all pretty disconcerting as well.

I guess it's time to...what? Look for a government job? I'm open to suggestions.

-- MichaelDreibelbis - 30 Jan 2009


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r6 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:48:14 - IanSullivan
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