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Author Topic: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?  (Read 1394 times)

Jackoose

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Hi,

I recently moved to a new firm (I am an agent with only 1 year experience at another firm).  It takes me a bit longer than the "target client hours allotted" right now to do some things since many things I get assigned I have never done before since I am new to prosecution.  Also, I want to do a flawless job to make a good impression, even though I regularly see applications and responses riddled with errors and typos by senior lawyers because they are trying to get through stuff so fast.

I end up having to cut my hours to finish the assignment on target (which keeps the client and partner happy) but produce a flawless work product.  I've been given a 1 year ramp up period and told that its normal and not a big deal to not hit my hours the first year.  I also go through spells where the partners just don't have a lot of work to give out, thus I have a valid excuse to not get my full amount of hours per day. 

I'm cutting so that I can create the best possible first impression right now and became a "go to" guy for these partners to give work to since they think it will be perfect and within hours.  Then once I get a good source of work from multiple partners I can start billing all of the hours I actually work.  I'm hoping by the time I've established myself as a "go to" guy I will be working fast enough to complete tasks within target hours, and errors made by having to work too fast at that point won't be as big a problem as having such errors present during a first impression assignment.

Is this a bad strategy? Why?
« Last Edit: 03-14-18 at 10:20 pm by Jackoose »
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still_learnin

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #1 on: 03-15-18 at 11:05 am »

...
I end up having to cut my hours to finish the assignment on target (which keeps the client and partner happy) but produce a flawless work product.
...
Is this a bad strategy? Why?

Depends on firm culture. Do you have an annual hours target? Is it billable or billed?
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Jackoose

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #2 on: 03-15-18 at 01:37 pm »

Yes  I have a target of billable.  I was told that first 6 months are a wash and 2nd 6 months you are expected to reach your billables for those 2nd 6 months, but that many associates (not as many agents at the firm so I don't know about them) don't meet their hours over all in the first year, or in the 2nd 6 months.  My supervising partner also told me don't worry about not making the hours, "you won't get fired" because of it.

Still doesn't make me feel at peace with not making them (which it looks like I won't for my first 6 months anyways. Although I am getting more work now that I've been here for a few months).

At my previous firm I made my hours (which were significantly more than this firm), so I think not getting the hours is more a function of just not getting enough work, not my hour cutting strategy.

At the last firm it was all for the same partner so I didn't have to worry about making as many good 1st impressions on people. They also weren't as strict on keeping the hours down for each assignment.
« Last Edit: 03-15-18 at 01:40 pm by Jackoose »
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still_learnin

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #3 on: 03-15-18 at 05:35 pm »

Yes  I have a target of billable. I was told that first 6 months are a wash and 2nd 6 months you are expected to reach your billables for those 2nd 6 months, but that many associates (not as many agents at the firm so I don't know about them) don't meet their hours over all in the first year, or in the 2nd 6 months.

My advice is to record all billable time you spend on matters.

First of all, doing so is the "right" (truthful?) thing to do, in the sense that it reflects reality. Second, it's smart in the sense that you show partners that you are putting in the time. If you don't record your billables, it's harder for them to tell whether you're lazy, incompetent, hard working but still learning, or not being "fed" enough work. Third, it's important that you know that you're spending 25 hours on an Office Action when the budget allows only half of that. If you cut your own billable time, this deficiency won't be visible from your monthly productivity report, and it will be too easy for you to ignore the reality that you're very inefficient and, more importantly, not getting better.

My supervising partner also told me don't worry about not making the hours, "you won't get fired" because of it.

Meaning only that the firm culture doesn't treat people like that and/or doesn't have a history of doing that. Things can change. And when/if they do, you want your hours to be at least as good as, and ideally better than, your peers.

Still doesn't make me feel at peace with not making them (which it looks like I won't for my first 6 months anyways. Although I am getting more work now that I've been here for a few months).

Both are typical. Some firms don't put much thought into work distribution, and the natural result is that associate / agent workload is almost directly proportional to seniority (or to be more precise, time at the firm).

You're not alone: many associates/agents do hide billables for fear of being perceived as inefficient and thus not a desirable worker. In the end, though, it's counterproductive. You may well be inefficient, and you need to know that, so you can either figure out how to get better or find another career. You won't be able to hide continued inefficiency from the firm forever.

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Jackoose

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #4 on: 03-15-18 at 09:39 pm »

Thanks for the input.  Its definitely not something I plan to do forever, but I think I will consider not doing it anymore due to our conversation.  At this point I've made a good impression on everyone I'm probably going to end up working with.

  I did read an article once about billing hours saying something to the effect of that if you take longer than you should due to 1) a stupid mistake you catch later and have to fix; 2) having to look stuff up the client is paying you to already know...these sorts of time wasting things you should maybe not bill for.  That kind of stuck with me as a justification for this type of action I've engaged in recently since I switched jobs.



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still_learnin

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #5 on: 03-16-18 at 10:55 am »

  I did read an article once about billing hours saying something to the effect of that if you take longer than you should due to 1) a stupid mistake you catch later and have to fix; 2) having to look stuff up the client is paying you to already know...these sorts of time wasting things you should maybe not bill for. 

It's true that clients are typically not billed for mistakes and training. That's why it's important to understand the distinction between billed and billable.

It's proper for every attorney/agent to record, as billable time, all work done in the service of a client matter. Then it's up to the partner* to decide how much is billed to the client.

In many instances, this adjustment is downward: a task took longer than expected, took longer than was reasonable, took longer than was agreed-upon, or even shouldn't have been performed at all. But in other instances the bill is adjusted so that billed time is more than billable time. This may happen, for example, for flat fee work.

*This person is more accurately called the "client account manager," since it person could be an attorney, or maybe even an agent -- but in reality is usually a partner). This terminology is common in other professional services firms, but I don't see it used much at law firms.
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eighteighteight

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #6 on: 04-09-18 at 03:46 pm »

still_learning is absolutely correct. You record and log all your hours. Do NOT underbill. Do NOT be afraid of spending too much time on something, unless specifically instructed by your partner "do not spend more than 3 hours on this."

It is up to the partner to know the client, and know how many hours he should write off. This is not your concern right now, and will not be until told otherwise. Also, as an early career agent, an hour of your time might be 15 minutes of his time, so it is not that big a deal to work more than 'target hours' on a project.

If you are working too much on something, your partner will tell you (either after the client complains, or before).  Let him do your job, and you do yours.
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still_learnin

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Re: Cut own hours when working for a partner for first time?
« Reply #7 on: 04-10-18 at 12:32 pm »

It is up to the partner to know the client, and know how many hours he should write off. This is not your concern right now, and will not be until told otherwise.

I don't agree that write-offs are "not your concern right now and will not be until told otherwise."

Your efficiency should always be something you pay attention to. Because in the end, law firms do care about this. What you should not do is get paralyzed by worrying about efficiency, or cut your own time. In the beginning, think of the client's budget as a goal that you are working toward, and track your progress toward that goal. 

[Writeoffs are] not your concern right now, and will not be until told otherwise. If you are working too much on something, your partner will tell you (either after the client complains, or before). 

Probably. At some point. But that may be months later. Some partners don't like to give feedback, or think the responsibility belongs to someone else (e.g., associate review committee).

If you're not getting feedback from the partner, and don't feel comfortable approaching him, other practitioners who work on the same client and type of matters can be a good source of information.
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