Update on Associate Hours Worked

NALP Bulletin, 2016

The most recent information available on hours worked and billed by associates suggests that both hours worked and billable hours worked increased in the most recent two-year period reported (2013 and 2014). Overall, average hours worked were 2,081 per year in 2014, compared with 2,067 per year at these same offices in 2013. Overall averages for billable hours per year were 1,806 and 1,786, respectively. The largest firms saw average hours worked increase from 2,175 to 2,199; however billable hours worked increased by almost 60 hours per year, from 1,817 to 1,873. No other firm size saw such an increase, and for firms of 101-250 the figures were close to flat, at 1,757 and 1,752, respectively. For other firm sizes, changes in average billable hours ranged from about 25 fewer hours to 25 more hours.

Over a longer period of time encompassing the recessionary period, average hours worked and billed were lower in 2009 than in 2007 regardless of firm size, but recovery to pre-recession (2007) levels in terms of billables has been confined to the largest firms, and that recovery has not been steady. For other firm sizes average billable hours are off by 50 to 80 hours per year, depending on firm size. (Note that, unlike the comparisons between 2013 and 2014, which reflect reporting by the same firms, figures for 2007, 2009, and 2011 were compiled independently from reports at that time, so the comparisons between those three years — and also between those three years and 2013 and 2014 — are between the groups as a whole rather than between the same firms.)

Table 1 and Table 2 also show the distribution of figures reported for 2014 in addition to the average of all figures reported (which in turn are averages). As these tables make evident, these distributions vary considerably by firm size in a manner that would be expected. For example, two-thirds of offices in firms of 701+ lawyers reported that average hours worked in 2014 were 2,200 or more hours, compared with just 13% of offices in firms of 100 or fewer lawyers doing so.

Finally, the most recent reporting of billable hours requirements in the 2015-2016 Directory of Legal Employers reveals an average requirement of 1,892 hours per year overall, and an average requirement of 1,930 hours per year at firms of more than 700 attorneys (Table 3). These averages have increased only a bit since they were last compiled from the 2013 Directory. As has been the case since NALP began compiling these figures, a requirement of 2,000 hours per year is not typical, though it has become more common. Although it is not possible to track changes at individual firms and offices, a requirement of 2,000 hours has accounted for just 9% to 17% of reported requirements since 2004, with an increase from 12% in 2013 and 10% in 2011. Among firms of more than 700 attorneys, over one-quarter reported a 2,000 hour requirement, compared with about 19% in the prior year. The average requirement in this group of firms nonetheless remains a bit lower than the 1,938 hour average in 2008, when 35% of these offices required 2, 000 billable hours per year. But, overall, the distribution has moved “to the right.” For example, in 1998, the most commonly reported figure was 1,800 hours, reported by about 30% of offices. Today, only 18% of offices report an 1,800-hour requirement.


Table 1. Average Total Hours Worked in 2013 and 2014 with Comparisons to 2007-2011

  Percent of Offices Reporting in This Range for 2014: # of Offices Reporting Average in 2014 Average in 2013 Average in 2011 Average in 2009 Average in 2007
1,000-1,999 Hours 2,000-2099 Hours 2,100-2,199 Hours 2,200 or More Hours
Overall 30.1% 21.3% 16.5% 32.1% 352 2,081 2,067 2,075 2,025 2,068
By Firm Size (# of lawyers):
100 or fewer 58.3 22.2 6.9 12.5 72 1,941 1,928 1,962 NC NC
101-250 49.4 14.1 27.1 9.4 85 1,990 2,010 2,011 1,971 2,023
251-500 21.1 34.2 10.5 34.2 76 2,141 2,103 2,096 2,094 2,112
501-700 3.7 18.5 44.4 33.3 27 2,167 2,156 2,101 2,033 2,119
701+ 5.4 17.4 10.9 66.3 92 2,199 2,175 2,215 2,134 2,172

Note: The figure shown for number of offices reporting is the number reporting a figure for 2014. The number that also reported a figure for 2013 differs slightly. The source for the 2013 and 2014 figures is the 2015-2016 NALP Directory of Legal Employers. Comparison figures for 2007, 2009, and 2011 were originally reported in prior NALP Bulletin columns (April 2009, February 2012, and May 2014) and were compiled from current NALP directories at the time and thus reflect offices/firms reporting at those times.


Table 2. Average Billable Hours Worked in 2013 and 2014 with Comparisons to 2007-2011

  Percent of Offices Reporting in This Range for 2014: # of Offices Reporting Average in 2014 Average in 2013 Average in 2011 Average in 2009 Average in 2007
1,750 or Fewer Hours 1,751-1,800 Hours 1,801-1,900 Hours More than 1,900 Hours
Overall 33.0% 18.1% 27.5% 21.4% 397 1,806 1,786 1,794 1,772 1,838
By Firm Size (# of lawyers):
100 or fewer 36.5 17.6 21.6 24.3 74 1,798 1,775 1,798 NC NC
101-250 51.2 15.1 20.9 12.8 86 1,752 1,757 1,746 1,766 1,831
251-500 35.0 17.5 25.2 22.3 103 1,810 1,789 1,810 1,804 1,858
501-700 43.2 35.1 18.9 2.7 37 1,767 1,792 1,782 1,783 1,826
701+ 8.2 15.5 43.3 33.0 97 1,873 1,817 1,836 1,753 1,847

Note: The figure shown for number of offices reporting is the number reporting a figure for 2014. The number that also reported a figure for 2013 differs slightly. The source for the 2013 and 2014 figures is the 2015-2016 NALP Directory of Legal Employers. Comparison figures for 2007, 2009, and 2011 were originally reported in prior NALP Bulletin columns (April 2009, February 2012, and May 2014) and were compiled from current NALP directories at the time and thus reflect offices/firms reporting at those times.


Table 3. Billable Hours Requirements per Year by Firm Size

  Percent of Offices Reporting in This Range: Average Required 2015 # of Offices Reporting Average Required 2013 Average Required 2011 Average Required 2008
1,800 Hours 1,850 Hours 1,900 Hours 1,950 Hours 2,000 Hours
Overall 18.0% 17.0% 23.1% 18.8% 16.8% 1,892 757 1,884 1,879 1,888
By Firm Size (# of lawyers):
100 or fewer 36.5 21.2 7.7 5.8 8.7 1,826 104 1,809 NC NC
101-250 25.4 16.4 23.8 9.8 9.8 1,867 122 1,861 1,856 1,864
251-500 29.9 7.5 21.3 21.3 16.1 1,892 174 1,891 1,897 1,904
501-700 6.9 33.1 23.1 22.3 13.8 1,902 130 1,906 1,899 1,908
701+ 2.6 13.7 31.3 25.6 26.4 1,930 227 1,918 1,918 1,938

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 because not all billable requirement figures reported are shown. Those shown are the five most commonly reported, and account for 94% of all figures reported. Source: 2015-2016 NALP Directory of Legal Employers. Averages for previous years were originally reported in prior NALP Bulletin columns (April 2009, February 2012, and May 2014) and were compiled from current NALP directories at
the time and thus reflect offices/firms reporting at those times.

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