Associates in law firms almost universally bemoan billable hour requirements. It’s frequently cited as the No. 1 thing attorneys hate about the practice of law. Yet, weaning young professionals from the billable hours performance metric can be a challenge. Why?
In truth, billable hours can be as much a crutch for associates as it can be for the law firms they work for. It provides an easy metric to compare yourself to other associates and to assess the health of the firm. High billable hours reflect a strong demand for work and job security. Low billable hours on the other hand . . .
At KBY we don’t have billable hours requirements for Associates and Paralegals, and we don’t track billable hours as a performance metric. The reason is simple. They don’t reflect the things that matter to our clients. They also don’t reflect the things that should matter to our professionals such as their own professional development.
While gauging performance on the metrics such as work quality, results, efficiency, and responsiveness is more meaningful, it can also be scary. It forces professionals to be responsible for the results they obtain (or fail to obtain) for clients instead of simply churning out more work. And it makes law firms more responsible too in the way they manage and mentor associates.
The truth is that the legal profession as a whole has done a poor job of aligning attorneys’ interests with their clients.