A couple of commentators noted the announcement by AmLaw 100 firm Hogans Lovells last week that making partner requires “being all in .” According to Hogans Lovell, being all in typically means 2400 hours per year. (Hogans Lovell says it recognizes this “goal” could be achieved by billable hours and “further contributions .” But Hogans is clear that a “significant portion” of these hours will be client chargeable work).
As Hannah Walker noted in her excellent article, an associate would have to work on average 10 hours per day to achieve this goal. In her follow-up article, she correctly points out that it’s not so much that Hogans has a target (many firms have unspoken similar billable hour targets). What’s really noteworthy is that Hogans has publicly thrown down a hours gauntlet to its associates.
I admit I read about this with a bit of dismay, given the world in which the profession now lives. On the one hand, I guess you have to applaud Hogan’s transparency. What it really takes to make partner in most firms is never clearly articulated. In most firms, though, partnership standards clearly exist. But they are just unspoken standards, which places those who may not be familiar with how law firms work ( all too often women and people of color) at a distinct disadvantage.
It sends a message that what really counts is billing hours
But a firm announced 2400 hour quota emphasizes the wrong thing. It sends a message that what really counts is billing hours. It doesn’t emphasize and necessarily incentivize getting a good result for the client. It doesn’t encourage using technology or developing better workflows to be more efficient. To use efficiency and technology for the client’s benefit and be client-centered.
It doesn’t even necessarily focus on profitability: we all know that some billable hours are more profitable than others. It certainly doesn’t encourage business development—who has time to develop business when you need to work 10+ hours a day just to stay even. And what about devoting time to being a good steward of the firm and your fellow lawyer.
Being a good lawyer is contributing billable hours, yes. But it also means all these other things. Things that should count as much as if not more than whether you meet your quota.
Here’s the thing about lawyers, particularly young lawyers who want to make partner. Give them an hour’s goal like this, and they will do everything possible to meet it. At the expanse of everything else, including home life. (Of course, the other problem is that once a lawyer meets quota, the temptation is to coast till the new year).
So many of the things most would agree go into making a good partner are once again sacrificed to the altar of the almighty billable hour.
And pity the poor clients. Where is the incentive for associates (or partners, for that matter) to be efficient and get the best result for clients? In fact, the motivation is just the opposite. The longer the matter drags on and the more hours billed to it, the better the advancement chances for the associate and profit for the firm. Not to mention that work done during the last 2 hours of 10 hour day isn’t, frankly, very good. Yes, business people work these kinds of hours. But they aren’t billing for time; they are working toward a result.
Mouthing work-life balance while imposing hour requirements that ensure the absence of any sense of balance sends the wrong message
Hour quotas, especially high ones, incentivize lawyers not to think and solve problems irrespective of time but to bill more time. Our profession is already rife with stress, substance abuse, and mental health problems. Mouthing work-life balance while imposing hour requirements that ensure the absence of any sense of balance sends the wrong message.
Lawyers are fond of saying the amount of work to be done always seems to fill up the amount of time the lawyer has to get the work done. Duh. Of course it does when your model is the billable hour, and the path to promotion is to bill more hours.