ANALYSIS: Does more years of practice mean more non-billables?

ANALYSIS: Does more years of practice mean more non-billables?

Most lawyers in law firms, and perhaps most law students, are familiar with law firms’ requirements for billable hours. What’s perhaps surprising (especially to new lawyers at the firm) is how much time you’ll invest in non-billable matters. And if you’re between the ages of 45 and 64, data from Bloomberg Law’s latest Workload and Hours Survey suggests you may be spending more time on non-billable tasks than your younger colleagues.

The law firms surveyed indicated that they had accumulated an average of more than 200 non-billable hours over the past six months. The survey did not ask these respondents to identify the types of non-billable work they engaged in, but in my experience, non-billable hours range from mandatory, mundane tasks (such as tracking time and preparing budgets) to more fulfilling work. (such as pro bono projects and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives).

It therefore makes sense that the survey respondents with the highest number of non-billable hours are lawyers between the ages of 45 and 64, who may be partners or of-counsel, and who do not have the same hour thresholds. billable or bonus than younger lawyers.

These respondents reported average totals well above the survey average of 205 non-billable: 278 hours for respondents aged 45-54 and 240 hours for respondents aged 55-64. In comparison, respondents from law firms under 45 reported billing less than 200 hours of non-billable work. Lawyers over 65 – who may be starting to cut back on their practices – also reported less than 200 hours.

This begs the question of why we are seeing such an increase in the number of lawyers between the ages of 45 and 64. As law firms strive to promote DEI initiativesit is possible that these lawyers step in to invest non-billable time in improve diversity. It is also possible that lawyers in this age range are partners focused on client development and marketing. But, it is very likely that these lawyers are the ones who bear the burden of the firm’s non-billable administrative tasks such as project management and billing audits.

If non-billable hours spent on project management and administration could be reduced or eliminated, participation in DEI initiatives and pro bono work could increase. Or, having fewer non-billable tasks can allow lawyers to generate more billable hours or spend a few hours on self-care every week. Law firms should consider hiring legal operations, legal technology and legal project managers professionals to find creative solutions to ease the non-billable burden.

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