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Can a law firm make money with a 1,600-hour minimum billable requirement? The answer to this question has generated a great deal of interest. Like all good questions, the answer is not as easy as one might think. The short answer is yes. If almost every attorney at our firm worked even as “few” as 1,800 billed hours, they each would make more than he or she did at a large firm � associates, of counsel and partners alike. At 1,600 hours, most of our attorneys will make slightly less. For example, a first-year associate billing 1,600 hours at our firm would make about 7 percent less than an associate at any of the largest law firms in Boston. For most readers, this is still quite a lot of money. If a person were to demand more, then the answer to the question of the feasibility of 1,600 billable hours might be “no,” at least for that person. But assuming one wants to pursue the goal of fewer billable hours � an important end in itself � there are key methods that can facilitate that goal. Essential to the success of any new venture, and especially a successful law practice, is a vision that is shared by everyone at the firm. Part and parcel of a commitment to fewer billable hours is a focus on a strong work-life balance, with an emphasis on high-quality work and excellent client support. An important wake-up call about the need for balance in attorneys’ lives occurred for us from the Boston Bar Association task force report titled “Facing the Grail: Confronting the Cost of Work-Family Imbalance” (at www.bostonbar.org/prs/wfcplan.htm). The report concluded that many law students, associates and partners believe that being a successful lawyer in private practice is incompatible with daily involvement in family life. The report also stated that the structure and cultural factors in most law firms fuel a competitive, long-hours cycle that lessens the quality of service clients receive and is at odds with the work-family balance. The report’s findings can serve as a guidepost in planning a firm management style and approach. For example, we considered the report’s conclusions in structuring our firm to allow for a better personal and professional life balance that targets fewer billable hours compared to the majority of other law firms. (We require 1,600 hours per year compared with the standard requirement of 1,800 to 2,000-plus billable hours. A 50 percent bonus is given to associates for every hour billed over the 1,600-hour mark as an acknowledgement of the added effort.) This more reasonable minimum-hours requirement relieves many of the pressures associated with meeting high hours and income goals, and allows for the discovery of the best ways to meet the needs of clients. Further, a better balance keeps attorneys fresh, engaged and more responsive in their client service. Making money should be viewed in the context of this shared vision of balance and not a vision of maximization of income. In the billable world, if one works less, one should expect to make less. But there is more to the equation; the notion of a shared vision goes beyond dollars. BALANCE AIDS MANY CAUSES The factors that drive profitability are not so far removed from the factors that lead to a satisfying professional life. This includes, first and foremost, balance and professionalism. Critical to legal practice is the ability to attract and retain the most qualified people. Without highly qualified attorneys, no firm can maintain a premium client base, especially in highly specialized practice areas. Providing attorneys with the chance to have personal and professional balance is attractive to many people with extraordinary backgrounds and qualifications. Delivering that workplace and professional reality will help to retain them, but only if they share the same vision. These professionals then satisfy clients in a way that maximizes the return on their time spent at work (better billing and collection efficiencies) and encourages everyone to take responsibility for billing, marketing and collections. In short, a more balanced life will lead to a more efficient firm. Balance in the approach to billable hours results in happier clients, too. Delivering value has a return; it is not only professionally satisfying, it is financially rewarding, even with reduced billing rates. And reducing the hours requirements makes attorneys more enthusiastic, fresh (an hour billed at 10 p.m. is not always as efficient as one billed at 4 p.m.) and committed to client service. CLIENTS ARE RESPONSIVE In implementing these strategies, we’ve found that clients have responded by shortening the time between invoice and payment and making fewer inquiries about billing. Even a small improvement in collection efficiency has a big impact on return to a firm; once again, balance leads to greater efficiencies. Maintaining balance and a fair return for the work requires teamwork. This is necessary so that an undue burden is not placed on any one person. If the vision is not shared, then internally competitive behavior can distract from both the personal and financial rewards of practice. It helps toward that end not to track originations or billing credit. Implementation of these balance-oriented policies helps to reduce costs. For example, consider taking off-the-beaten-track office space. One could trade, say, a fancy address for a magnificent view. Not only does this send a message that the firm is nontraditional, but there is a cost savings. One can also reduce overhead costs by refraining from expenditures such as advertisements or the naming of conference rooms at law schools after the law firm. By sticking to what we do best and knowing our market, we also save costs when compared with larger firms. THE BOTTOM LINE How does all this balance affect the ability to make money? The funny thing is: The question asked at the beginning of the article � Can a firm make money with everyone billing 1,600 hours a year? � is the wrong one. Much has been written on strategies for increasing income and profits per partner in traditional law firms. In fact, most firms measure their own success on these metrics. It is certainly counterintuitive to establish a profitable firm with reduced minimum billable hours and billing rates. But, as noted above, improving efficiencies, managing costs and using technology to increase lawyer and firm productivity (such as intrafirm networks, software, docketing and document management, Internet and online research, e-mail and voicemail) can lead to better billing and collection realization and can create a culture that results in enhanced profitability. A far better question, however, is whether it is possible to have a rewarding career � personally, professionally and financially � when the minimum hours are 1,600. The answer is a magnificent “yes,” but only if you are willing to go for it. The number of lawyers who are unhappy with their careers is astounding. It does not have to be that way. A balanced approach to the legal practice can result in a more satisfying career � something that is its own reward. Peter C. Lando and Matthew B. Lowrie are partners at Lowrie, Lando& Anastasi, a Cambridge, Mass., firm specializing in intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, licensing and business transactions. This article was originally published inThe National Law Journal, aRecorder affiliate based in New York City. • Practice Center articles inform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact News Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected]or go to www.therecorder.com/submissions.html.

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