Paul L. Caron

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Billable Hours Are Smothering Associates—And Any Attempts To Help Them, Billable Hours Are Smothering Associates—and Any Attempts to Help Them:

Associate mental health and wellbeing are deteriorating at an alarming rate, thanks in large part to billable hour requirements compounding the many additional stressors that have been brought about by the pandemic over the past year-plus.

Are alternative fee arrangements and additional time off the cure? It comes down to execution and expectations. But getting those right is easier said than done. ... 

The billable hour model is often held up as a monument to inefficiency, and with good reason. ... During the pandemic, the ever-present pressure on associates to hit their annual billable targets has not been relieved at many firms, exacerbating the mental toll of working remotely, quarantining and worrying about the health impact of COVID-19.

But while AFAs, by their very definition, offer an alternative to billable hours, they are not a panacea for associates’ problems, as increased scrutiny of lawyers’ efficiency simply creates a different type of pressure. And even if they were a viable solution, AFAs account for only a small portion of most firms’ overall portfolios, which means that pressure to work more cost-effectively in certain matters typically exists in addition to the pressure to hit annual billable hour targets.

Likewise, law firms’ recent attempts to encourage lawyers to take additional time off as a way to take care of their mental health are unlikely to have the intended effect without an attendant reduction in billable hour requirements. The fear of falling short on billables is not allayed by working less.

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