Ever wonder how your billable hours measure up? Consider this: Daniel Bliss billed 3,600 hours last year.
That’s almost 70 billable hours a week for 52 weeks. That’s 10 billable hours a day if you work seven days. That’s nearly 12 billable hours a day if you decide to take off one day a week.
However you look at it, that’s a lot of hours.
“You know what?” Bliss said. “When the sun shines, you have to make hay.”
You evidently have to “make hay” when the sun doesn’t shine as well if you want to rack up those numbers. Bliss, an intellectual property lawyer and partner at Michigan-based Howard & Howard, admits he worked plenty of 12-hour days, evenings and weekends last year. He even racked up billable hours while on vacation.
The self-proclaimed workaholic is actually one of dozens of lawyers in the United States who billed more than 3,000 hours in 2017, according to information reported by law firms for the Am Law 200/NLJ 500 survey. The firms were asked to report the total hours billed by the lawyer who billed the most hours during 2017.
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At least a dozen firms declined to identify their highest-billing lawyer, citing such excuses as the lawyer can’t talk about the work, or, the lawyer is too busy to do an interview. Two firms said the hours reported were actually inaccurate, as they represented the total hours spent on a project or the total hours billed by a practice group—not the number of hours billed by an individual lawyer.
But Bliss’ hours were all his. And he was willing to talk about them.
Bliss, who works out of the firm’s offices in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and in Las Vegas, said it takes a great deal of discipline and organization to accumulate that many hours. He’s been able to bill an average of 300 hours a month, he said, because he knows exactly what tasks he must accomplish each day.
He’s also fortunate to have a lot of work, he said, although he declined to identify his clients. He fills out his own time sheets instead of having an assistant do it, to ensure the recording of hours worked and the description of that work are correct.
He also said it helps to keep a steady pace. To keep on track, he strives to bill 10 hours a day. “Sometimes you make it. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you go beyond it,” he said.
Bliss, who does patent prosecution, trademark work and litigation, said he usually is at the office by 7 a.m. and doesn’t leave before 7 p.m. He also typically works on weekends. For part of 2017, his wife was out of town so he got into a routine of working a long day at the office, coming home, eating and then working some more.
He also works on airplanes while traveling, often drafting patent applications.
“It’s that little bit that helps each month,” he said.
Despite his nose-to-the-grindstone ways, Bliss said he doesn’t expect the same from his associates. “Not everybody is going to be like me,” he said.
Bliss has been a high biller his entire career—well before he joined Howard & Howard, a 140-lawyer firm with offices in Michigan, Illinois, Nevada and California. He was equally driven at his previous firm—an IP boutique he co-founded in 1994 with Gerald McGlynn III. That firm, Bliss McGlynn, merged with Howard & Howard in 2013.
He’s always been a high achiever, according to McGlynn, who is also a partner at Howard & Howard and has known Bliss since they were lab partners at Michigan Technological University. ”He would take 22 credits a term and get like a 3.9. It’s evidence he has the ability to absorb a lot of information and generate high-quality product,” McGlynn said.
But it takes more than efficiency and drive to bill that many hours in a year. Bliss is able to do it, McGlynn said, because he likes what he does.
“He just tears into it, and he’s happy to do it.”
And that love of work is really what it takes, according to McGlynn. He should know. In 2015, it was McGlynn who took the prize as Howard & Howard’s highest biller.
That year, he billed 3,200 hours.