Friday, June 4, 2010

Unmotivated: The Billable Hour Is Winning

I'm so unmotivated lately, which is odd because this unmotivation comes at a time where I am finally getting a slew of my own cases and my work load is picking up.

I think my unmotivation stems from the little monster I call the Billable Hour (Bill for short).

I am obviously behind schedule when it comes to meeting my year end billable hour requirement. I know I have the entire year to make this up, (I'm hoping for a string of crazy depositions across the state, this would equate to billable hour heaven). At the end of each month, the partners circulate a table which shows how many hours each associate has billed and how far they are above or behind target. I dread this each month. Not only do I have to face how behind I am, but every other associate in the office gets to know about my daily struggle with Bill.

When I was a summer associate, I easily billed 8 hours a day. Easy Peasy. This is because people handed me assignments and all I had to do was what I was instructed to do. But now that I'm an associate, I have to spent time thinking about my cases and trying to figure out what to do next. I have to learn everything from scratch as I go. For example, no matter how new you are, it's not acceptable to bill an hour for preparing a simple stipulation for the release of medical records, even if your first one legitimately takes you that long. And I'm still trying to build my reputation in the firm so something as small as asking a partner a question takes me an unusual amount of prep time. I don't want to sound stupid, I want to know all the facts and issues and I want to rehearse what I'm going to say. I can't bill for stuff like this but it seems to suck the hours out of my day.

My first couple months were slow but I was rearing to go. Now I have a lot of work but I can't find the motivation. When I think about how far behind I am I become freakishly intimidated. It's like staring into the deep blue belly of the Puget Sound, trying to get the inspiration to jump into the cold water. I have every intention of sitting at my desk until all my hours are billed (at least for just the day) but I keep stalling or finding excuses (another cup of coffee, errand during lunch, grabbing a quick lunch, and then when I get home I think "oh I'm tired, I'll bill those hours tomorrow). And Bill keeps growing bigger and meaner. Welcome to my Catch-22.

I think I need to refocus and regroup. I mean, my upcoming tasks are actually pretty interesting. I should be excited to do them. I just need to stop worrying about the Billable hour and how far behind I am an just focus on the tasks I need to accomplish. Easier said than done. I also need to build better working habits (such as do a task right away instead of putting it on a steadily growing to-do list), work more efficiently and figure out how to cut out unnecessary distractions.

Finally, I need to find some motivation. I know it's here somewhere. Is it under my desk, nope just 5 pairs of shoes under there (including one pair of Frye boots- don't ask). Is it in my drawer, nope just three king-sized Hershey bars. Oh well, I'll find it....eventually...in fact, I'll put that on my to-do list: "find motivation." Maybe I can get around to that next week.

9 comments:

CM said...

Argh, the billable hour is the bane of my law firm existence. I would be so much more productive without it. No advice, but I'm right there with you.

Butterflyfish said...

Ugh, feel for you.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that you are supposed to reduce your own time? I have always been told to bill what I actually work and my time will be cut later. These days I cut my own time--but I do it just before the bills go out to the clients, after my supervisors have seen how much time I really spent (per their request).

I think most (ethical) firms cut their young lawyers' time, because we are all inefficient when we are still figuring things out.

But I'm with you on hating the billable hour. I don't technically have a requirement at my current firm (we did the whole spreadsheet circulating thing at my last firm, ugh!) but I still feel like there is constant pressure to hit a magic number each month.
--LC

idwsj said...

For all that is wrong, I applaud that you have 5 pairs of shoes under your desk.

FSD said...

I was going to say the same thing Anonymous said. Don't cut your own time, unless you've been specifically directed to do so. That task is above your pay grade, at least that's what my firm instructs, and you may be cutting too much time. Even if it takes you an hour to figure out what you're doing, it's still an hour spent on the matter. Sure, the client shouldn't have to pay for you to learn on the job, but it's the nature of the "PRACTICE" of law. Also, don't forget to bill for time spent "thinking" about the case...that counts, too. I think the hardest thing to figure out as a young lawyer is what you can and cannot bill for....that's why you shouldn't cut your own time.

Good luck finding motivation. We all struggle with that from time to time.

JD-Maybe said...

Im not a lawyer (yet) but I have to bill my whole day and I dont know what the hell im doing so it takes me 3x as long to do anything. Im curious why do you do a stip for medical records instead of a subpoena duces tecum? Im so overwhelmed i cant work and I get interrupted allllll day long and my boss makes me do unimportant shit asap leaving the important stuff for later. Ive found working on sat when no one is in the office to be very helpful

PT-LawMom said...

The billing partner I worked for cut all his associate's hours. Maybe you can ask someone? That said, I know plenty of my associates cut their own as well.

LEO said...

I found the only way I every found motivation in law school was by actually finishing something on my to-do list. Completing an assignment made me feel like I might actually finish everything I had to do at some point. Maybe you just need to get an extra latte or something to get you over the hump!

But ya, Bill sucks!

Downsized Attorney said...

I agree with a few people on here that you should by no means be cutting your time down. I may not have ever worked at a small firm, but at both of the large firms I have worked at I have specifically been instructed not to cut down my own time. In my new position, I actually work mostly on flat fee transactions so cutting my time is a disservice not only to me, but the firm because they need to know exactly how much time it takes to do this kind of work so they can structure their fee schedule accordingly in the future. You really shouldn't feel intimiated to have a conversation with a partner at your firm about their billing practices.