I recently came across a question on Quora asking lawyers about what they hate most. With a good amount of negativity about the legal profession, it's important to remember that not everything is bad.
There are some things that are worse (or more annoying) than others.
So my answer may appeal to some lawyers over others, but I would say the billable hour.
This affects nearly every lawyer at commercial law firms. That said, I’ll rely on my experience and focus on how the billable hour affects associates and junior lawyers at those firms.
While there has been a recent trend toward alternative billing arrangements, most commercial law firms continue to rely on the billable hour. So as an associate, you’re required to track your time for every task you perform for a client, whether that’s conducting research, writing a memo, or something else.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, there are a number of caveats.
First, your number of billable hours is tied to your yearly bonus. While the threshold varies by firm, associates often need to bill at least 2000 hours per year to become eligible for their bonus. That averages out to about 167 hours per month.
While that may not seem that difficult, not every task you take on is a billable task. There are situations where you may be in the office for 10 hours but only bill seven (or even five) hours. Yet you can’t turn down that non-billable work—it simply has to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Further, you don’t have complete control over your workload. If your office is slow, there will be fewer opportunities for you to pick up billable work. This is inherently stressful.
Finally, it just becomes a grind to keep tracking your time at work. While there is software to help you with this task, I haven’t found it to be that helpful. You just simply have to track your time and submit it daily (or nearly daily) so that partners can bill clients.