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Limits on billable hours by inside and outside counsel

“Surveys indicate that lawyers who work 60 hours can probably bill 40 hours to client matters …” That assertion in the NYSBA Journal, June 2008 at 45, got me to thinking along two lines.

One direction was that outside counsel, who might take four weeks of vacation a year, will be hard-pressed to break the 2,000 billable hour mark. To do so they would need to work approximately 2,880 hours to be able to bill 2,000, which means 10 hour days including Saturday all year. No wonder law departments are suspicious of such feats (See my post of Oct. 20, 2005: ask for total hours billed by your key outside lawyers.).

The second direction concerns the legitimacy of assuming in-house counsel work approximately 1,850 chargeable hours (See my post of Sept. 25, 2005: a reasonable assumption?). I don’t know whether the work-60-to-charge-40 rule of thumb holds, but corporate counsel have their share of activities that shouldn’t be charged for the benefit of a client (See my post of May 16, 2006: definition of in-house chargeable hours.). Also, in my consulting experience, it is rare for in-house lawyers to come to the office on weekends. They may check e-mail, do some reading, and organize material, but I think there is nothing like the long hours often logged on weekends by lawyers in private practice.