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A suggested revision to the estimate that in-house attorneys work 1,850 chargeable hours a year

A common presumption is that in-house US lawyers put in an average 1,850 chargeable hours per year. These hours the corporate client would pay for if the corporate lawyer were with a law firm.

Testing this presumption, we need to start with an accepted definition of a legitimate internal “chargeable hour” (See my post of May 16, 2006: my proposed definition of “chargeable hour”; and Nov. 23, 2008: how hard it is to prove how hard internal lawyers are working.).

Next, to confirm or alter the 1,850 hour figure, we need data on how many total hours in-house lawyers typically log. Surveys give some ballpark numbers (See my post of Sept. 25, 2005:1,850 as a normal assumption for in-house chargeable hours; and Jan. 3, 2008: 1,850 calculates costs for senior lawyers.). Other surveys give total hours worked (See my post of May 24, 2007: average 50 hours a week among Canadian corporate counsel; Sept. 25, 2005: “generally 45-50 hours” worked per week; and April 13, 2006: 52% on in-housers said 41-50 hours a week while 38% said 51-60 hours.). These self-provided figures raise doubts, since lawyers may exaggerate their hours worked (See my post of Nov. 20, 2006: Aviva’s law department reports an ideal of 1,320 chargeable hours a year.). One of the difficulties in this area is the scarcity of data about time tracked internally, and, indeed the accuracy of that data.

We then have to reduce the total time for time no client should be charged (See my post of Feb. 17, 2008: questions whether 1,850 is too high; Feb. 25, 2008: wasted time during the day; May 20, 2009: administrative and management time estimated at 5-10%; and Oct. 30, 2005 on in-house counsel resent administrative demands.)

My personal view, developed in part from walking many halls of law departments at 6PM, is that 1,750 is probably a more representative figure for hours clients would pay for each year from their lawyer colleagues.