How Much Do Associates Work? Not All Firms Require 2,000 Billable Hours

NALP Bulletin, April 2008

This month's column updates a series of analyses from NALP's Directory of Legal Employers, based on the 2007-2008 edition.

Analyses show that a requirement of 2,000 billable hours per year is not typical, and although it is not possible to track changes at individual firms and offices, a requirement of 2,000 hours has become only slightly more common on an aggregate basis, accounting for 12% of reported minimums, up from 9% for 2004. But overall, the distribution has moved to the right. For example, 10 years ago the most commonly reported figure was 1,800 hours, reported by about 30% of offices. Today, 17% of offices report an 1,800 hour minimum.

The first two tables report on total and billable hours worked in 2006, showing both the distribution of figures reported and the average. For comparison, the average for 2005, as reported by the same firms, is also shown. The third table shows the five most commonly reported billable hours requirements, the percent of offices reporting each, as well as an average.

The next series of tables reports on a variety of items related to pro bono work. Tables 4, 5, and 6 report on whether firms give billable hours credit for pro bono work, and, if so, whether there is a maximum that will be credited and what that maximum is. As Table 6 shows, a maximum, if there is one, is typically 50 or 100 hours, with 50 hours more typical of firms of 500 or fewer lawyers, and 100 hours more typical of firms of more than 700 lawyers. Table 7 reports on the extent to which pro bono hours are considered as equivalent to billable hours for bonus purposes.

Finally, Tables 8 and 9 report on the extent to which firms have a set minimum number of hours that they encourage, and, if so, what that minimum is. Note that the items compiled in Tables 8 and 9 appear only in the online NALP Directory of Legal Employers (www.nalpdirectory.com) and not in the print edition.

In general, the percentages reported in Tables 4-9 have not changed a great deal in a year except that firms, particularly larger firms, were a bit more likely to report that they encourage a minimum number of hours of pro bono work - 51% compared with 46% last year. To view the complete analysis compiled from the 2006-2007 Directory, see the April 2007 article "How Much Do Associates Have to Work?".

Table 1. Average Total Hours Worked in 2006


PERCENT REPORTING: Average
in 2005
Average
in 2006
# of offices
reporting
1,000-1,999
hours
2,000-2,099
hours
2,100-2,199
hours
2,200 or
more hours
Overall 26.7 28.7 21.5 23.1 2,065 2,065 701
By Size of Firm (# of lawyers)
50 or fewer 62.6 19.2 8.1 10.1 1,949 1,940 99
51-100 40.0 35.3 12.9 11.8 2,008 2,007 85
101-250 25.1 41.9 22.8 10.2 2,042 2,037 167
251-500 23.0 23.0 25.7 28.3 2,100 2,097 187
501-700 6.7 15.0 53.3 25.0 2,143 2,140 60
701+ 1.9 29.1 13.6 55.3 2,147 2,174 103

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2006. The number reporting a figure for 2005 is slightly smaller. Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 2. Average Billable Hours Worked in 2006


PERCENT REPORTING: Average
in 2005
Average
in 2006
# of offices
reporting
1,000 - 1,799
hours
1,800 - 1,850
hours
1,851- 1,950
hours
1,951 or more
hours
Overall 31.2 23.5 26.5 18.7 1,848 1,842 791
By Size of Firm (# of lawyers)
50 or fewer 43.4 23.6 13.2 19.8 1,823 1,800 106
51-100 30.0 24.0 21.0 25.0 1,839 1,842 100
101-250 31.0 28.9 28.4 11.7 1,840 1,836 197
251-500 25.3 20.7 32.3 21.7 1,869 1,862 217
501-700 58.5 16.9 16.9 7.7 1,807 1,798 65
701+ 16.0 22.6 35.8 25.5 1,873 1,880 106

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2006. The number reporting a figure for 2005 is slightly smaller. Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 3. Billable Hours Requirements per Year


PERCENT REPORTING: Average
required
# of Offices
Reporting
1,800 hours 1,850 hours 1,900 hours 1,950 hours 2,000 hours
Overall 17.1 18.2 24.8 17.7 12.1 1,887 1,085
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 32.7 21.2 8.7 2.9 7.7 1,819 104
51-100 37.4 22.0 11.4 2.4 10.6 1,851 123
101-250 17.4 26.1 20.7 13.7 7.9 1,871 241
251-500 11.9 17.4 34.5 19.4 11.3 1,903 310
501-700 17.5 16.7 36.8 22.8 5.3 1,889 114
701+ 3.6 6.7 24.4 34.7 25.9 1,940 193

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 90% of all figures reported. Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 4. Is Billable Hours Credit Given for Pro Bono Work?


Yes Case-by-case No # of offices
reporting
Overall 75.9 5.8 18.3 1,408
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 50.0 8.8 41.2 114
51-100 62.1 8.9 29.0 124
101-250 62.1 5.4 32.5 280
251-500 74.2 8.7 17.1 356
501-700 85.3 0.6 14.1 163
701+ 96.5 3.5 0.0 371

Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 5. Where Billable Hours Credit Given for Pro Bono Work--Is There a Maximum That Will Be Credited?


Yes Case-by-case No # of offices
reporting
Overall 38.8 8.8 52.4 1,040
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 27.8 20.4 51.9 54
51-100 37.0 19.8 43.2 81
101-250 53.4 9.8 36.8 174
251-500 47.8 4.5 47.8 245
501-700 34.6 3.8 61.7 133
701+ 28.9 9.1 62.0 353

Note: Figures are based on 1,040 offices/firms which reported that billable hour credit is given for pro bono work (either yes or case by case) and which also reported whether or not there is a maximum amount that will be credited.

Table 6. Maximum Number of Pro Bono Hours that May be Counted as Billable Hours Requirements per Year


PERCENT REPORTING Average # of Hours Credited # of Offices Reporting
25 Hours 50 Hours 60 Hours 100 Hours
Overall 5.6 47.7 5.1 24.4 71 373
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 14.3 50.0 0.0 7.1 56 14
51-100 3.8 50.0 3.8 38.5 68 26
101-250 7.0 51.2 0.0 15.1 62 86
251-500 10.4 64.3 0.9 8.7 59 115
501-700 0.0 54.3 0.0 42.9 74 35
701+ 0.0 21.6 17.5 43.3 96 97

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 because not all reported hours figures are shown. However, no other hours figure accounted for more than 4% of responses. Figures are based on 373 offices/ firms which reported setting a maximum number of pro bono hours which can be credited towards billable hours, and which also reported the maximum. Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 7. Are Pro Bono Bono Hours Equivalent to Billable Hours for Bonus Purposes?


Yes Case-by-case No # of offices
reporting
Overall 72.8 10.3 16.9 1,190
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 39.3 21.4 39.3 84
51-100 57.3 18.8 24.0 96
101-250 58.9 9.4 31.7 224
251-500 76.0 8.8 15.2 296
501-700 82.6 4.9 12.5 144
701+ 87.3 9.5 3.2 346

Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

Table 8. Is There a Minimum Number of Pro Bono Bono Hours Encouraged?


Yes No # of offices
reporting
Overall 51.0 49.0 1,060
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 8.6 91.4 70
51-100 26.8 73.2 82
101-250 36.0 64.0 197
251-500 65.0 35.0 266
501-700 50.0 50.0 140
701+ 65.2 34.8 305


Table 9. Number of Pro Bono Hours that Are Encouraged


PERCENT REPORTING: Average # of
hours
encouraged
# of offices
reporting
20 hours 25 hours 30 hours 40 hours 50 hours 60 hours 100 hours
Overall 16.5 9.6 4.4 4.0 38.8 11.5 9.2 48 520
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
100 or fewer 7.4 3.7 0.0 3.7 74.1 0.0 3.7 48 27
101-250 15.6 0.0 23.4 . 34.4 3.1 14.1 47 64
251-500 18.3 8.3 3.6 0.0 43.8 1.8 11.8 50 169
501-700 1.5 21.5 0.0 12.3 33.8 13.8 16.9 53 65
701+ 21.5 10.8 1.0 6.2 32.8 23.6 3.6 45 195

Source: 2007-2008 NALP Directory of Legal Employers

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