Billable Hours Requirements at Law Firms

NALP Bulletin, May 2006 

One of the most sought after law firm measures, after salaries, is the billable hours requirement.

For a law firm, the requirement says a great deal not only about standards but also about law firm culture. Yet, for all the interest in billable hours requirements, a great deal of anecdotal misinformation persists. Are billable hours requirements really highest in New York? How many firms require 2,000 billable hours per year? Are there cities where a requirement of 1,800 billable hours is more the norm?

Law offices that list in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers provide information on hours worked, billable hours worked, and billable hours requirements. Job seekers can consider this information as they compare law firms they are considering. But what about the bigger picture? What if you are interested in knowing how a firm’s requirements — or, as an employer, your firm’s requirements — compare with those of other firms in the area, the region, or nationwide? Or what if you want your career counseling to be grounded in a clearer understanding of billable hours requirements?

NALP is able to analyze the information reported in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers, and each year produces a report entitled Patterns & Practices: Measures of Law Firm Hiring, Leverage, and Billable Hours. This report presents key findings not only on hours worked and billable requirements but also on hiring trends for entry-level associates, summer associates and laterals, summer program outcomes, and partner to associate ratios, or leverage. Patterns & Practices includes nationwide figures and information by firm size, region, and for over 40 cities and states represented in the Directory. Summary tables of key findings are also included, and one of those tables from the recently released Patterns & Practices is presented on the opposite page. Among the findings:

  • Although billable hour requirements ranged from 1,400 to 2,400 hours per year in 2004, most offices reporting a minimum require either 1,800 or 1,900 hours (24% and 21% of offices, respectively).
  • Contrary to their reputation, New York City firms do not necessarily set the highest minimums. Although about 18% of New York offices required 2,000 billable hours, more firms in a number of cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas and Miami, did so.
  • In Philadelphia, Orange County, CA, San Diego, and the San Jose area, most offices required either 1,900 or 1,950 hours; in Miami, most firms required either 1,900 or 2,000 hours.
  • In contrast, 60% of offices in Hartford and Nashville set their billable hours requirement at 1,800 hours per year; as did about 40% in a number of other cities, including Wilmington, Portland, OR, Baltimore, Denver, and Seattle.

Summary of Billable Hours Requirements — 2004
(most frequently reported figure)



Most Frequently
Reported Figure
% of Offices
Nationwide 1,800 24.0
By Firm Size:
100 or fewer attorneys 1,800 43.3
101-250 attorneys 1,800 26.8
251-500 attorneys 1,900 31.6
501 or more attorneys 1,950 42.9
By Office Size:
25 or fewer attorneys 1,800 23.7
26-50 attorneys 1,800 30.8
51-100 attorneys 1,900 24.3
101 or more attorneys 1,900 22.7
By NALP Region:
Northeast 1,800 32.6
Mid-Atlantic 1,800 25.0
Southeast 1,900 30.4
Midwest 1,850 34.2
West/Rocky Mtn. 1,800/1,950 24.4 each
By City:
Atlanta 1,900 36.0
Austin 1,900 42.9
Baltimore 1,800 42.9
Boston 1,900 41.7
Charlotte 1,900 41.7
Chicago 2,000 30.8
Cincinnati 1,850 37.5
Cleveland 1,850/1,900 33.3 each
Columbus 1,850 42.9
Dallas 1,900 33.3
Denver 1,800 38.5
Detroit area 1,950 40.
Hartford 1,800 60.0
Houston 1,900/1,950/2,000 23.5 each
Kansas City area 1,850 50.0
Los Angeles 1,950 35.7
Miami 2,000 50.0
Milwaukee 1,850 42.9
Minneapolis/St. Paul 1,800/1,900 20.0 each
Nashville 1,800 60.0
New York City 1,950 35.0
Northern NJ/Newark area 1,850/1,900 33.3 each
Northern Virginia 1,900 30.0
Orange County, CA 1,950 47.4
Philadelphia 1,900 42.8
Phoenix 1,900 36.4
Pittsburgh 1,900 40.0
Portland, OR 1,800/1,850 35.7 each
San Diego 1,950 42.9
San Francisco 1,950 32.4
San Jose area 1,900/1,950 35.3 each
Seattle area 1,800 39.1
St. Louis 1,850 50.0
Tampa/St. Petersburg 1,900 44.4
Washington, DC 1,950 22.0
Wilmington 1,800 40.0
By State:
California 1,950 30.4
Florida 1,900 38.9
Indiana 1,850 90.9
Michigan 1,750/1,800/1,950 27.3 each
New York 1,800 58.3
Texas 1,800/1,900/2,000 28.6 each
Virginia 1,800 66.7

Note: State figures exclude any cities reported separately.

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