How much do Lawyers Work?

How much do Lawyers Work?


In discussing how much a lawyer works, brings you to two main issues: billable hours; and how many hours a lawyer should work to achieve their billable hours target. 

While still completing your law studies, many of your professors will warn you that if you want to build your career with a major law firm, you will have to be ready to work long hours and possibly miss out on such things as family vacations. 

Duties of a Lawyer

Lawyers basically interpret laws, apply a specific law to a specific situation, and make new laws (as a legislator). 

A lawyer serves as both an advisor and an advocate. As an adviser, they let their client know of their legal rights and obligations.  As an advocate, they represent and speak for their client in court to present pieces of evidence. 

These are typically what a lawyer does:

• Conducts research and analyzes legal issues.

• Communicates with clients, judges, colleagues, and other personalities involved in a particular case.

• Interprets laws, regulations, and rulings for businesses and individuals.

• Advises and represents clients in courts, in private legal issues, and government agencies.

• Argues in court or out-of-court settlements on behalf of their clients. 

• Prepares and files legal documents (appeals, lawsuits, contracts, deeds, and wills). 

• Presents facts verbally or in writing to their clients or others involved in the legal issue.

Areas of Specialization

While there are many areas of specialization a lawyer can choose to practice in most lawyers specialize in criminal law, civil law, or corporate law. 

Criminal lawyers are hired by people who are charged with crimes. If the accused cannot afford to hire a private criminal lawyer, they are given a government-employed public defender  

Some lawyers opt to handle only purely civil cases. These are cases that are not related to criminal misconduct. They are the lawyers who handle patent cases (rights of certain individuals to inventions), labor cases (disputes between union members and management), and real estate issues (development, rental, sale, purchase of real properties), as well as other areas of law. 

Types of Law Practice

Lawyers vary in the type of law practice they want to pursue. Many lawyers want to strike it out on their own and go into private or solo practice. Some choose to work for large law firms, government agencies, and corporations. There are lawyers too who join the academy, become judges or district attorneys, and many choose to enter the executive and legislative branches of the state or federal governments.

How Much Do Lawyers Work?

The majority of lawyers put in over 40 hours of work per week. Lawyers who are into private or solo practice and those who work for large law firms work more hours. 

Much of a lawyer’s work is spent on research, mostly on precedents (past interpretations of the law where judicial decisions were based) which they use to support their cases. Lawyers also spend many hours preparing and reviewing legal documents. 

Most of the bigger law firms give their lawyers billable hour quotas or the number of hours they can bill a client. It is important to know that the number of work hours is not equal to billable hours. This issue is best explained through this example:

A lawyer had 2,200 billable hours in one year. This is equivalent to 40 hours per week. The thing is a lawyer also needs to devote some unbilled hours thus raising the 40 per week to about 66 to 80 hours per week (a two-week vacation leave has been factored in) to achieve the 2,200 billable hours. 

Big law firms often require their lawyers to work a minimum of 80 hours per week to achieve their target billable hours. Lawyers need to be "on-call", too even beyond office hours.  

After all, the fat paycheck some lawyers get from bigger firms may not be so lucrative considering the number of work hours needed. This fat paycheck means a super heavy workload and sacrificing some family time more than during their law studies. 

Why do Lawyers need to Work Long Hours? 

Many people are wondering why, of all professions, lawyers need to work long hours. 

If you are into private or solo practice, you can schedule your own workload, unless of course, you choose to accept every client that comes knocking in your door. More often lawyers in this type of practice accept work to be able to pay their bills and their employees. 

Lawyers who work for big law firms, on the other hand, are assigned cases they cannot reject. They work hard because if they don’t they will be fired especially when they are not able to meet their billable hours quota. 

When a lawyer handles a case, you will often need to work overtime to prepare or analyze legal documents or to prepare for his court appearances. He also needs to allow some time to keep up with new laws and precedent court decisions. 

In summary, fewer clients translate to less workload, less billable hours and fewer revenues which means private or solo lawyers will not be able to pay for their bills and lawyers in big firms are more likely to get fired. 

What are the Billable Hours?

The billable system is a record of how a lawyer spends every minute of their working day to compute how to bill a client. This further refers to how much a client is billed per hour for a lawyer’s advice as well as the behind-the-scene work a lawyer does for their case or deal. 

Billable hours are measured by recording time (usually in six-minute intervals) lawyers spend doing work for a particular client. These are recorded on the dashboard of a lawyer’s computer or in bigger (or more sophisticated) law firms in an electronic time-recording system. 

Activities, for instance, the printing of documents are either recorded under a specific client's file or under a non-chargeable account. This allows the law firm to know how their lawyers and staff are spending most of their time on. 

While billable hours is still the most common method of billing clients, newer methods such as retainer services, and fixed-fee are starting to take over. The number of billable hours a law firm has is a measure of how busy the lawyers of the firm are. 

Recording billable hours is difficult to maintain because as in any job, there are many interruptions and multitasking is a common thing. In these cases, you need to have the discipline to put your timer on for one job and off for another job. 

How to Maximize Billable Hours

Finding the right balance between coming up with top-quality work and clocking in the required billable hours can be a difficult task. The difficulty is experienced mostly by those who have just completed their Juris Doctor degree because they still have a lot to learn. 

Here are some common ways lawyers can maximize their productivity to reach their billable hours target. One does not need to be a Master in Law graduate to imbibe these things. 

1.   Implementing the best practices

This includes being organized and not waiting for the last minute to complete a certain job. It also includes finding a balance of working with billable and non-billable tasks. 

2.   Create a template for legal documents

Lawyers are required to create a lot of legal documents every week ranging from legal memos to contracts and for presentations. Some portions of these tasks are non-billable yet they take so much of your time. 

Creating templates and having a template management system allows the law firm to have consistent-looking documents. This strategy will also lessen non-billable hours. 

3.   Track all your time

There are time-tracking solutions that can help you maximize your time spent working on a particular task. This software can help increase your productivity as well as profits.

Lawyers put in a lot of hours at work because they want to be successful.  However, there are many ways to maximize the time spent at work and yet achieve the required billable hours. 

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