The obsession with billable hours…
Many lawyers tell me they are becoming increasingly stressed at work. They do not enjoy their job and have no work/life balance. They are feeling really fed up and see no way out.
When I hear lawyers talking like this, I can usually predict the cause of this kind of stress and it normally comes down to targets and billable hours.
Each day a lawyer is faced with a battle against the clock of chargeable hours. Some days they win this battle and achieve their target hours and some days they do not. On the days they do not, they leave the office feeling drained and demotivated. After all, lawyers like to win!
When the days of winning become less frequent, the obsession with dividing the day into 6 minute units commences.
How have I only charged 6 hours when I have been sat at my desk for 12 hours? How can I stop writing off time? How can I ask for more work? Do I have time to waste a unit by making a cup of tea? How quickly can I run to the toilet?!
Slowly, the lawyer loses all perspective on life.
If you feel your stress levels are rising due to unachievable targets, please take some time to stop and review matters before you start counting how many units it takes to make a cup of tea. There may be changes you can make to your case load and working day that will make all the difference.
For example, if the hours you record are not a true reflection of the number of hours you have been sat at your desk, start making a detailed note of what you are doing during non-changeable time. Whilst doing this, have a think about the following questions:
- Do you need more work? If so, arrange a meeting with your boss to discuss your workload.
- How do you structure your day? Are you working in a productive manner or do you find yourself flitting between different tasks? It is very difficult to focus and record time accurately when flitting between tasks. Ensure you allocate specific times of the day to answer emails, make phone calls and review your post. When concentrating on one task, do not allow yourself to get distracted by the phone, your email or anyone else.
- Do you write off time? If you feel a piece of work has taken longer than it should have, perhaps check with your boss before choosing to write off time. It may be a piece of work that required you to take a long time.
As you become more productive, your billable time will increase and you will be able to enjoy life out of work again.
As an alternative, should we all be thinking about scrapping billable hours and target hours? According to Roll on Friday’s firm of the year, this is one of the reasons Slaughter and May usually rates higher in the work/life category than other Magic Circle firms. Perhaps this is the way forward?!