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Number of Associate Hours Worked Increases at Largest Firms

NALP Bulletin, February 2012

The most recent information available suggests that, while hours worked and billed started to bounce back somewhat in 2010 after two years of decline, the recovery has been the greatest at the largest firms of 701+ lawyers. The picture at smaller firms is more mixed, with changes in billable hours not always tracking with changes in total hours worked. Overall, average hours worked were 2,044 per year in 2010, compared with 2,025 per year at these same offices in 2009. Overall averages for billable hours per year were 1,799 and 1,772, respectively. The largest firms saw average hours worked increase from 2,134 to 2,208 per year, and billable hours increase from 1,753 per year to 1,859 per year.

Tables 1 and 2 report on total and billable hours worked in 2010, as reported in the 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, showing both the distribution of figures reported and the average of all the figures reported (which in turn are averages). As these tables make evident, the size and direction of changes varies by firm size. For example, the average number of hours worked increased in firms of 101-250 lawyers but was relatively flat in smaller firms and in firms of 251-700 lawyers. Average billable hours nonetheless went up in firms of 50 or fewer lawyers, but continued to decline in firms of 501-700 lawyers.

Finally, the most recent reporting of billable hours requirements in the 2011-2012 NALP Directory reveals an average requirement of 1,879 hours per year overall, and an average requirement of 1,918 hours per year at firms of more than 700 lawyers (Table 3). As has been the case since NALP began compiling these figures, a requirement of 2,000 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 accounted for just 9-12% of reported requirements since 2004. Among firms of more than 700 lawyers, about 16% reported a 2,000 hour requirement, compared with about 20% in the prior year. The average requirement in this group of firms increased a bit, to 1,918 from 1,905 (which in turn was a notable drop-off from 1,930 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 19% of offices report a 1,800-hour requirement.

Table 1. Average Total Hours Worked in 2009 and 201

FIRM SIZE PERCENT REPORTING Average in 2009 Average in 2010 # of Offices Reporting
1,000-1,999 Hours 2,000-2,099 Hours 2,100-2,199 Hours 2,200 or More Hours
Overall 39.3% 17.0% 17.6% 26.2% 2,025 2,044 489
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 68.7 13.4 7.5 10.4 1,911 1,912 67
51-100 54.1 23.0 13.1 9.8 1,967 1,956 61
101-250 44.4 30.8 12.0 12.8 1,971 2,000 117
251-500 35.1 12.6 17.1 35.1 2,094 2,091 111
501-700 37.2 18.6 39.5 4.7 2,033 2,031 43
701+ 6.7 2.2 25.6 65.6 2,134 2,208 90

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2010. A few of these offices did not also report a figure for 2009. Source: 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.

Table 2. Average Billable Hours Worked in 2009 and 2010

FIRM SIZE PERCENT REPORTING Average in 2009 Average in 2010 # of Offices Reporting
1,000-1,750 Hours 1,751-1,800 Hours 1,801-1,900 Hours 1,900 or More Hours
Overall 34.1% 15.2% 28.3% 22.4% 1,772 1,799 499
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 46.5 15.5 21.1 16.9 1,748 1,761 71
51-100 40.9 16.7 18.2 24.2 1,763 1,758 66
101-250 33.6 23.5 27.7 15.1 1,766 1,790 119
251-500 24.4 17.6 27.5 30.5 1,804 1,826 131
501-700 44.4 0.0 50.0 5.6 1,783 1,746 36
701+ 28.9 3.9 35.5 31.6 1,753 1,859 76

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2010. A few of these offices did not also report a figure for 2009. Source: 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.

Table 3. Billable Hours Requirements per Year by Firm Size

FIRM SIZE PERCENT REPORTING Average Required # of Offices Reporting
1,800 Hours 1,850 Hours 1,900 Hours 1,950 Hours 2,000 Hours
Overall 19.0% 18.8% 27.2% 16.9% 9.7% 1,879 935
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 28.0 16.0 6.7 6.7 2.7 1,778 75
51-100 37.9 25.3 11.6 4.2 8.4 1,846 95
101-250 28.8 20.9 25.4 9.6 4.0 1,856 177
251-500 20.6 10.1 31.6 18.9 12.3 1,897 228
501-700 5.8 31.1 32.6 20.0 10.0 1,899 190
701+ 7.1 12.4 34.7 30.0 15.9 1,918 170

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 82% of all figures reported. Source: 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.



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