Mary Jaclyn Cook spent nearly two weeks last December in Hawaii, getting married and honeymooning in the Pacific paradise. All the while, she knew she was short on hours.

At the end of November, the then second-year associate with Faegre Baker Daniels in Denver was 368 hours shy of the firm’s annual 1,850-hour expectation for associates. Work had been slow in the Rocky Mountain outpost’s product liability practice, and wedding planning had taken its toll. A November meeting with her boss had failed to quell Cook’s fear that she would be fired if she missed the target.