Don’t Bill Hours. Help People.

Law Firm Billable HoursThere is a tremendous amount of job dissatisfaction among lawyers. The need to bill hours – a lot of them – is a common source of career consternation. This is particularly true among less experienced lawyers who have not acquired other skills (such as a valued niche expertise) or assets (such as a strong book of business) that can further their career development.

Accordingly, too many young attorneys spend too much mental energy focused on racking up billable hours, and their job satisfaction suffers as a result. A simple shift in mindset – away from billing hours and toward helping clients – can make a fundamental difference in one’s career satisfaction.

Let’s start with a stipulation: Billable hours are critically important to lawyers and law firms.

Notwithstanding shifts toward alternative fee arrangements, billable hours remain the financial lifeblood of the legal industry. But the day-to-day, minute-to-minute focus lawyers place on billable hours is deleterious – indeed, they are often the criteria on which attorneys measure themselves against their colleagues, as well determine the success or failure of a particular day’s work.

Fortunately, there is better approach.

Instead of beginning every day by turning on the clock and recording as many .1 and .2 time entries as possible, show up and settle in for a better reason. Set out each day to help people. Lawyers too often lose sight – I know I certainly did while practicing law – of the fact that the work they do is vitally important to the clients they represent. The document being drafted, the discovery being reviewed, or the motion being argued may be drudgery to the attorney doing the work, but the implications of that work may be life altering to the client. Since helping others is so satisfying, plenty of billable hours will result as a byproduct of the help being provided.

It is easy for less experienced attorneys to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and fail to appreciate that the work they do truly does matter. More experienced attorneys can help those junior to them gain this perspective by assisting them in understanding how some of the seemingly mundane work they do (discovery, document review, etc.) fits into the big picture of an important case or transaction. It’s one of the most important mentoring lessons that can be passed down as it can have a direct and meaningful impact on one’s career outlook.

It’s very difficult to look back with a great deal of satisfaction on a day, month or year full of difficult, stressful work if one’s benchmark for success is the amount of hours billed. That’s exhausting and defeating. Measuring success instead by celebrating the help provided to clients in navigating some of life’s most challenging situations is a big step toward greater career satisfaction.



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Do you know that there is a significant difference between client loyalty and client satisfaction?  Just because a client is satisfied – it does not necessarily mean that they will be loyal to your practice over the years.

Sign up to receive an audio recording from a live webinar with Ken Hardison, Founder of PILMMA, and learn the 10 rules you and your staff need to follow in order to achieve long term client loyalty.

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Jay Harrington

About Jay Harrington

Jay is co-founder of Harrington Communications, a marketing and creative services agency that serves the design, web and writing needs of law firms. He leads the agency's Brand Strategy, Content Creation, and Client Service teams. He works with Harrington Communications' clients to develop memorable brands and compelling content, and ensures that clients receive impeccable service and demonstrable value. Prior to co-founding Harrington Communications, Jay practiced law as a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (Chicago office) and Foley & Lardner (Detroit office). He has an undergraduate degree in journalism and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

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  2. Don't Bill Hours. Help People. - Legal Marketing News | Legal Marketing News - 02/28/2014

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