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?


ABS said...

How quickly she forgets the stress of entering time when things are slow and those frustrating months when the hours do not remotely reflect the pain and suffering...

Just kidding. I know you remember all too well. Being the new person is not easy. Productivity isn't the only component to your success, though. I'm sure your boss is already impressed with your enthusiasm. Knowing you, I suspect you're more at risk of alienating your coworkers by being an over-achiever!

They hired you for a reason. I'm sure you're doing great.

KBM said...

Oh my this made me laugh for so many reasons. At first I wanted to laugh because how absurd! Billables were the bain of my existence. But then I wanted to laugh because in a warped way, you are right. You can measure and value your time. It's tricky to learn how to do that with out such an objective marker!

drew said...

Maybe you just need to re-learn how to measure your value. It isn't just the time you spend doing things, it is the outcome of your job. Completing something successfully, on time. i have never done billable hours, but I think they would drive me crazy and seem way too Big Brother for me. I remember when a lawyer-donor-volunteer I worked with, by accident "billed" me his volunteer hours. I damn near collapsed when I saw email - 8 minutes, phone call - 41 minutes. total $1,000... He still had to track his volunteer time too! Anyway, try to enjoy the new relaxed way of working. And, there is no use in sending late night emails to appear as if you are working unless it is crunch time. It just annoys your co-workers and can make it seem as though you either can't get your work done at a reasonable schedule, or you are trying to make it seem as though you are working more than you really are. I avoided them at all costs. But then again, my employer doesnt want me back...

Marcia (123 blog) said...

Well, as you know, I coach on time management so I teach people what their time is worth.

However, there are two components - the pure productivity but there's also enjoyment in just doing things you love. Yes, it might not make financial sense to make all my kids' own food but I get huge enjoyment out of providing nutritious meals for them.

It's how you define success and maybe, K, you need to redefine success at new Big Retailer :)

Peter Wolf said...

Wow... head exploding:

1. Your self-worth has nothing to do with how many hours you put in. It has to do with acheiving results and creating value through those results. That value is purely subjective and determined by the customer.

2. Value has nothing to do with how hard you worked. Value is measured purely subjectively by the customer. You could work really hard washing my car and spend a lot of time on it but it won't be worth more than $25 to me. On the flip side, information saving me or making me tens of thousands of dollars is worth a lot - even if it takes a single phone call.

3. Record keeping is greatly simplified without timesheets if you focus on the right records to keep. You want to measure what's important to the client: were they happy with the result? Do they feel they got a fair price for the value delivered? Would they use you again? Would they refer you?

Flip it around: does a timesheet really demonstrate your benefit of your customers? Does the customer really care how long you spent on the project? Does the customer sleep easier knowing that you are required to put in xx hours on their project each week?

Sorry for the lecture but I think the value that each of us brings has nothing to do with time spent and everything to do with prodcutive results that the customer values. Best of luck in your new job - find value in your accomplishments and be happy you are no longer treated like a machine in an assembly line cranking out "work".

Einat said...

Giiirl... I would be so happy to ditch the billable hour. It's an evil master.

From what I hear, in the corporate world they do a lot of 'goal setting.' And some of those goals aren't even things you are expected to (or expecting yourself to) complete in that designated time frame. So, maybe you can re-frame your ambition towards those 'goals' rather than the arbitrary billable hour.