Post-traumatic Billable Hour Disorder*

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First, thanks for the warm welcome thus far.  I know you’re all about to disappear into the haze of outline preparation and exam studying, but I encourage you to stop by to say hello or to talk through the rule against perpetuities (yes, I get it and so can you!)…or grab a piece of candy from my candy dish.

Now, for the main event: my first blog post – EVER!

As I transition out of private practice and into my new role here at BUSL, I find that I’m suffering from post-traumatic billable hour disorder.  This manifests itself in an almost-constant checking of the time, reaching for a timer that isn’t there, a restless desire to get a “good billable project” and a general discomfort with enriching activities (that aren’t billable).

In my first week alone, I’ve attended 3 talks, 3 meetings, and spent about 3 hours at Human Resources learning about benefits.  My first reaction is to start panicking about my billable hours…but then I realize that not only do I not have to bill my time, attendance at these enriching talks and meetings is part of doing my job!  Lucky me!

In contrast, during my six years in private practice my worth was quantified in six minute increments of billable time that together were supposed to equal 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, and 48 weeks of the year (give or take) to reach that 1900 annual billable hour requirement.

Now for those of you who haven’t experienced a law firm yet, this might not sound unreasonable.  Eight hours of work per day is probably a lot less than you’re doing right now.  What you might not yet realize, however, is that billing 8 hours can take 9 or 10 or 12, depending on what else is on your plate.  Need to organize and prioritize your workload?  Non-billable.   Need to do some networking?  Non-billable. Have a monthly (or weekly) department meeting to cover important practice updates?  Non-billable.  As you can imagine, sometimes these non-billable commitments are the most important parts of your day…and yet, they DON’T COUNT!

Forgive me for going off on a bit of a rant.  The truth is, the billable hour is not all bad!  It encourages efficiency and helps keep people on task.  It gives lawyers a
way to value their work, and clients a way to evaluate the value (in an economic sense) of the lawyer’s work.  For those working insane hours on a big case or a deal, the billable hours amassed on a project can be a real source of pride, and rightly so.

So, for those of you who want to learn more about billable hours, and why I’m still suffering from post-traumatic billable hour disorder, check out these links:

Yale CDO’s summary of the time needed to meet billable hours:

Above the Law discussion of billing “gray areas,” such as engagement letters, travel and billing:

New York Times article on the potential challenges to the billable hour:

*Disclaimer:  The title of this post and any references to “post-traumatic billable hour disorder” are meant to be funny and in no way to trivialize the experience of those suffering from the serious effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.  For an interesting story on ways BU researchers are reaching out to veterans  suffering from PTSD, see this link to BU Today:

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