Friday, October 14, 2011

Missing the Billable Hour

Two weeks at my new in-house position at Specialty Retailer and I am sad to say that I miss the billable hour.

What!!, you all gasp in horror. How is this possible? Big Firm lawyers do nothing but bitch about their billable hours.

Here are reasons why Big Firm lawyers should appreciate the billable hour:

1. Self-Worth. Can you measure how valuable your time is? I remember thinking that it was silly not to pay someone to do X or Y or not spend time researching coupons or best deals because my time is worth $XXX. Sure, I never actually saw that money but you know how the Big Firm values your time for a client and in turn you start to value yourself the same way. Now I am reviewing the sales circulars and putting together a detailed list for the grocery store. I pack my lunch and set up the coffee maker to start brewing at 5:30 am. Some of this has to do with the drastic pay decrease but a lot of it is because I can no longer say that my time is worth a specific sum.

2. Showing Me the Value. When you have to record your time then the partner and the client know what you've been doing; it shows how hard you've been working. Now, unless I stay late (more on the in-office culture at Specialty Retailer to come) or send a late email from home, no one knows how long I slaved over contracts to a particular contract. There is no need to be efficient which can be nice but it also means trying to figure out when enough is enough - especially when you are trying to impress a new boss (and the only boss you have, unlike working for many partners at Big Firm).

3. Record Keeping. Tracking your time means you have a good way to look back at your history - your contract and deal-making evolution. Your billable hours indicate what percentage of time you might spend on not just a particular client but a type of matter. At Big Firm if I was spending too much time hand holding junior associates I could push them out of the nest. I couldn't put off painful projects (provided they were billable) if my monthly hours were supposed to show time devoted to that project. Now I find myself putting off longer term projects in favor of ones that can be accomplished quickly (maybe I miss the deal rush?).

I actually think that it is useful for everyone to track their time to some extent but that in turn takes time so no one does it unless economically necessary (as it is in Big Firms since lawyers generate the revenue).

What do you think about the billable hour? Do you track your own time if not required by your job?