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Sean S

It's a scary thought. To set aside only one enjoyment per week will amount to little enjoyment throughout one's life. There are not enough weeks throughout life for it to be otherwise. More disturbing is that the junior partner perceived the one enjoyment per week as a positive aspect of working in such a law firm.

Everyone sets different goals. Also, everyone has different interests. It does seem, at least from Jeremy's post, as well as this post, that if a person is going to be satisfied with his/her life working in a BIGLAW environment, the goals set by such a person will have to be work related. In addition, the interests of that person will generally revolve around work.

Even if that person feels satisfied, it would seem that such a person might have missed out on many important aspects of life. Of course, he/she may not know of what was missed. I am not so sure if that changes anything. That person still would have lost time with his/her kids, because of the choice to practice Violin. Or, time with the kids will have prevented learning the instrument. At the very least, this person should have the option of enjoying both. This, it seems, is common sense.


That's a wonderful post. Walt Bachman wrote a book on the same general issues called "Law v. Life: What Lawyers Are Afraid to Say About the Legal Profession", which ought to be required reading in law schools. The book is structured around a series of "Lessons"; "Lesson Seven" is "10% of a lawyer's soul dies for every 100 billable hours worked in excess of 1,500 per year."

TPB, Esq.

So wholeheartedly agree. Jim, apparently I'm down to 80% soul. This is probably why I can't appreciate Buddy Guy.


Seriously, 1500 hours a year is your ceiling? That translates to barely 30 hours a week, ASSUMING you work from 9 to 5, work no weekends at all, AND have a full month for vacation.

Sounds like a great lifestyle, yes, but I don't know many Americans in any industry or profession who actually have it.

BIGLAW Associate

1500 is a low ceiling, and it won't get you a bonus and will not help you get anywhere near a partnership.

That said, your calculation of how to reach 1500 is way off. Any lawyer who bills for every second they are in the office is cheating their clients. According to a law review article I read recently, the actual billing is about 2 hours for every three spent at work, so your average workday just increased from 9-5 to 9-9.


Did anyone but me notice the irony here in the comments -- Jim noted that you begin to lose soul for every 100 hours over 1500 that you bill, and BIGLAW Associate responded not with a reference to soul but rather to what that billing that number of hours is likely to do to your bonus?


I did spot the irony, and it's hilarious. I do not understand lawyers who make $125,000 per year and turn pale at the thought of not getting a $30,000 bonus on top of that because they failed to sacrifice their life to The Firm. Ridiculous.

In any case, I'm not sure how he reaches "9 to 9" for a 1500 hour year. With an entire month of vacation (and assuming your firm does not count your vacation hours as billable hours, which some firms do), and not a single day on the weekend spent at work, that's 6.25 billable hours per day. 9 to 5 might be an exaggeration, but 8 to 5:30 sure as heck is not. And if you can't bill 6.25 hours in a 9.5 hour day, you're either (a) incompetent, or (b) a transaction attorney.

BIGLAW Associate

I wasn't responding to Jim, I was responding to Chuck's response to Jim. Jim said you start losing your soul over 1500 hours. Chuck responded that 1500 seemed like a low number to start losing your soul at, utilizing some simple calculations to show what he thought 1500 yearly hours would translate into on a day-to-day basis.

My response was twofold: (a) To show that if lawyers start losing their souls at 1500 hours, then a lot of lawyers are in trouble, because no associate at a large NY firm would even think og billing that low, as I demonstrated the adverse financial and career consequences. So that seemed to me like a low point at which to start losing parts of one's soul. At my firm during the 2002 billing year, due to the slow economic situtation, billing only 1800 was considered excusable; and (b) to demonstrate to Chuck that billing 1500 hours a year, which as I mentioned above is a very low number for lawyers at large NY firms, is not as easy as he thinks it to be. As I mentioned in my previous post, the average billing for a lawyer not cheating his or her clients by inflating their billable hours is approximately 2 hours for every 3 spent at the office. So I simply multiplied the amount of hours per day he gave by 1.5. Of course, any self respecting "BIGLAW" lawyer should be billing at least 2000 hours a year.

The hours, however, are not, in my opinion, the reason to say that large firm lawyers have lost their souls. Most jobs in which one hopes to excell at rise to the top require similar, if not more, hours, this is a fact of life. Were out ancestors who spent every waking hour tending their fields to provide sustenance to their families selling their souls. Working many hours, if one believes that one's profession is noble, worthy, necessary, or even enjoyable should not be indicative of soul-selling.

In my opinion, the soul-selling part comes in regarding the fact that big firm corporate lawyers (and corporate litigators are not exempt here) are enslaved to their clients. If a client needs me at 3:00 am when I've just gotten home and gone to sleep after a 16 hour day, I'll be at the office in a jiffy with a huge smile on my face. If I schedule a date for 8 pm, I must inform the lucky lady that I'll call her on the day of the date at 6 pm to confirm that I'll be able to make it, and was not forced with no notice to attend some meeting or finish drafting some document handed down to me by a sadistic partner. What's a vacation? If my cell phone rings, and it's the office, I better have my laptop open and the hotel's fax machine buzzing.

That's the part that really gets to you, and that's the part most prospective lawyers aren't aware of. Any lawyer joining "BIGLAW" knows about the hours going in, and makes a knowing choice to accept them. They are not as much aware of the being a slave part constantly making only tentative plans, because everyone's so busy getting worked up about the hours, that part gets overlooked. Try having a social life dependent entirely on tentative plans.


BIGLAW: yes, I agree re: working long hours being okay if you're pretty inspired by what you're doing (although the "just one thing" besides work kind of hours wasn't okay with me, as I explained.) I also agree re: the tentative nature of commitments required. When I was quavering about whether to accept my offer and go to BIGLAW Boston, a good friend wrote me a great letter about what it was like to be the one constantly cancelling plans on friends, or not showing up, or showing up an hour or two late, and how tiring and devastating that got, and how impossible it was to explain why you really couldn't be sure whether you'd be able to keep a date. It happens here some, on a MUCH more limited basis, and it feels lousy. I can't imagine what it would be like at the BIGLAW level.


I have to say that the complaints I'm reading from BIGLAW Associate simply don't register with me. For one thing, it's obvious that part of our difficulty in reaching a consensus comes from the fact that he is talking about New York biglaw, and I'm talking about biglaw in other smaller but still large cities in America.

Billing is more of a challenge for lawyers in NY biglaw firms. And it is more of a challenge for transactional lawyers. In my firm, however, where my billables don't come from sitting at my desk poring through 1800 pages of documents every day, the ratio of billables to office-time is much higher than the 2:3 in NY. If I have an afternoon deposition, for example, that's 4.5 hours for the depo alone, plus 3-4 hours for depo prep, and those hours fly by just like that. On those days (which come often) I can easily be done by 6 having billed 9 hrs without even thinking about it. The other day I argued a motion for summary judgment: again, that took a FULL day of reviewing arguments, reviewing briefs and exhibits, and practicing my arguments, and again it went by in the blink of an eye.

Litigation provides very easy billables, IF you are given a lot of front-end responsibility in handling litigation files. The problem with working at a NY biglaw firm is that you just don't get that level of responsibility. (Truth is that you don't always in my city either, but you can at a few select firms).


I have to say, this has got me a bit scared. My firm claims that non-billable work such as business development, pro bono hours, and charity work have the same weight as billables, but stupid me for believing that. I come in here every day doing something or other for the firm and it's not even appreciated. I am not looking forward to bonus time at all!

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