Thursday, January 24, 2008

Billable Hours and Legal Writing

An article in this morning's New York Times describes how some law firms are trying to get away from the billable hour and how all law firms are (or at least should be) trying to improve the lives of their associates and partners.  [The article is by Lisa Belkin, Who's Cuddly Now? Law Firms -- Abandoning Billable Hours May Help Slow the Treadmill, N.Y. Times, Jan. 24, 2008, at E1.]

The article states that in the 1960s and 1970s, law firms required between 1,600 and 1,800 billable hours a year (about 34 hours a week).  But today that requirement has risen to 2,000 to 2,200 billable hours a year (about 42 billable hours each week, which would usually take more than 60 hours a week).

Not mentioned in the article is how the increase in billable hours produced a decrease in the amount of time that associates had for honing their legal writing skills.  Partners and other associates -- who in past years may have had time to coach new associates on their writing skills -- no longer have the time to devote to non-billable matters.  Meanwhile, pressure by clients to keep bills in line means that there may be less time devoted to such fundamental matters as editing, revising, and even proofreading in some cases.

I applaud those firms that are looking for ways to help new associates improve their legal writing (and research) skills, and to improve the quality of life for all lawyers and their families. 

(mew) Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago

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