Billable hours and non-billable hours. Most people outside the legal world don’t know the difference between the two, but for those who work in law firms, the distinction is critical.
Many law firms have minimum billable hour requirements, somewhere between 1,800 and 2,200 hours per year for first-year associates, according to the National Law Review. But how many actual working hours does it take to amass this amount of billable hours?
According to the Yale Law School Career Development Office, in order to reach 1,800 annual billable hours, an associate would need to work their regular hours each week plus an extra 20 minutes Monday through Friday (for a total of 2,430 hours per year) to generate 1,832 billable hours.
If they were to work one Saturday each month from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., they would end up with around 1,834 billable hours – even though they would have actually worked 2,434 hours.
This makes the substantive legal work performed by non-attorneys even more critical.
The ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services states that a lawyer may include a charge for the substantive legal work performed by a paralegal.
Some law firms establish how many billable hours paralegals are expected to produce, which might fall somewhere between as low as 800 to over 2,000 hours per year.
Allowing for vacations and holidays, this breaks down to a minimum of 37 billable hours per week. Thus, assuming that a paralegal works a standard 40-hour week, this leaves only three hours per week for non-billable activities.
The number of billable hours that a paralegal can accumulate in a year can vary widely based on several factors, including the specific job requirements, work environment, and billing practices of the law firm or organization.
Here are some key considerations:
It’s important to note that there is no standard or set number of billable hours for paralegals across the industry.
The expectations can vary significantly depending on the factors mentioned above. It’s best to check with the specific law firm or organization to understand their billing requirements and expectations for paralegals.
The typical minimum billable hours requirement for paralegals in law firms can vary depending on several factors like what we’ve mentioned above.
It’s important to note that there is no standard or universally applicable minimum billable hours requirement across all law firms. However, I can provide a general range based on industry practices:
It’s worth noting that these figures are general guidelines and can vary significantly depending on the specific law firm, its practice area, and the location.
Some law firms may have higher or lower billable hour expectations based on their clients, the complexity of cases, or the billing rates charged by the firm.
According to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, “purely clerical or secretarial tasks should not be billed to the client at a paralegal rate, no matter who performs them.”
For the most part, courts around the country have ruled that clerical tasks like typing, organizing files, searching PACER, and eFiling documents are not billable but should instead be considered part of the firm’s overhead.
Generally, for a paralegal’s work to be billable, it must:
However, many law firms and attorneys struggle when defining the exact tasks that can be billed to the client when they are completed by a paralegal.
According to the National Federation of Paralegal Association, a paralegal may “perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.”
Billable paralegal work commonly includes:
While non-billable clerical tasks like making copies, filing, fulfilling service requirements, issuing subpoenas, and filling out court forms are routinely performed by paralegals, their time can usually be better spent in the performance of substantive (billable) legal work.
When the majority of a paralegal’s work is billable, this will subsequently lighten the attorney’s workload, keep the clerical staff busy, and provide tangible cost savings for the client because paralegals bill at a lower rate than attorneys.
Since the recession of the late 2000s, clients have been putting greater pressure on law firms to reduce costs and alter their billing practices.
More and more legal consumers are requesting flat fee arrangements rather than agreeing to be billed by the hour, and as a result, attorneys are now billing fewer hours than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Additionally, consumer appetite for
But non-billable time ultimately cuts into the firm’s bottom line, and the financial health of many law firms still depends not only on how many hours the attorneys are billing but also on how many billable hours the firm’s paralegals are generating.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the more billable hours a paralegal produces, the better their chances to score a higher salary, or at least to make a stronger case for a pay raise.
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