Across virtually every occupation, employers have developed ways to communicate expectations to employees and to subsequently track their contributions. For a store clerk, it may be a shift calendar and a punch clock. For a salesperson, it may mean sales goals. For law firms, the billable hour—that commonly used, and just as commonly reviled, measure of client hours worked—often serves as the principal means by which to measure the contributions of their lawyers and apportion compensation. It’s long past time for a fresh look at billable hour requirements.
Before you stop reading, let’s be clear that this is not another article foretelling—or seeking to hasten—the death of the law firm billable hour requirement. It won’t happen for a long time, nor necessarily should it. Used appropriately, billable hour standards can set clear expectations for lawyers and supply a dose of objectivity to measuring their contributions, ensuring that comparable work receives comparable reward. For instance, a lawyer who has had an extraordinarily busy period of firm or client work should be recognized and compensated accordingly.
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