how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

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MantisToboggan

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how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

Postby MantisToboggan » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:52 pm

General question for associates in biglaw:

What happens if you don't make your billables - beyond not getting your bonus?

If the "requirement" is somewhere in the ballpark of 1750-2000 for eligibility, what % can you drop below that without anyone noticing/caring? what are the actual consequences?

I assume you'd get fired if you did 1,000 hours a year, but has anyone ever truly tested this? what have you all witnessed?

QContinuum

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Re: how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

Postby QContinuum » Thu Nov 29, 2018 5:22 pm

It depends on one's seniority. The more senior, the quicker one would be "spoken to" for having low billables. It also depends on one's firm. In general (though there is some variation), the more prestigious a firm, the more leeway associates get, especially at the junior level. Finally, of course, it also depends on one's reputation. In general, if one does good work, low hours shouldn't happen, but if it does occur, well-liked, competent associates are generally given significantly more breathing room than unmotivated or incompetent associates.

While purely based on anecdata, I suspect that at a ~V20 in NYC, a junior would be out by year 3 or so, give or take a half-year, if they consistently missed billables and there was no upward trend. At a firm closer to the bottom of the V100, such a junior might be let go sometime in their first full year. Such firms generally (though Vault isn't a perfect proxy) have lower margins than the cream of the crop and generally as a result police "deadweight" much more aggressively.

At any firm, once you get to year 5 or up, having awful billables is probably a recipe for a quick nudge to the exit door if not corrected in very short order.

MantisToboggan

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Re: how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

Postby MantisToboggan » Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:13 pm

QContinuum wrote:It depends on one's seniority. The more senior, the quicker one would be "spoken to" for having low billables. It also depends on one's firm. In general (though there is some variation), the more prestigious a firm, the more leeway associates get, especially at the junior level. Finally, of course, it also depends on one's reputation. In general, if one does good work, low hours shouldn't happen, but if it does occur, well-liked, competent associates are generally given significantly more breathing room than unmotivated or incompetent associates.

While purely based on anecdata, I suspect that at a ~V20 in NYC, a junior would be out by year 3 or so, give or take a half-year, if they consistently missed billables and there was no upward trend. At a firm closer to the bottom of the V100, such a junior might be let go sometime in their first full year. Such firms generally (though Vault isn't a perfect proxy) have lower margins than the cream of the crop and generally as a result police "deadweight" much more aggressively.

At any firm, once you get to year 5 or up, having awful billables is probably a recipe for a quick nudge to the exit door if not corrected in very short order.


thanks this is a great answer, but was wondering, What is a low billable? What is acceptable?

hlsperson1111

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Re: how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

Postby hlsperson1111 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 7:17 pm

QContinuum wrote:It depends on one's seniority. The more senior, the quicker one would be "spoken to" for having low billables. It also depends on one's firm. In general (though there is some variation), the more prestigious a firm, the more leeway associates get, especially at the junior level. Finally, of course, it also depends on one's reputation. In general, if one does good work, low hours shouldn't happen, but if it does occur, well-liked, competent associates are generally given significantly more breathing room than unmotivated or incompetent associates.

While purely based on anecdata, I suspect that at a ~V20 in NYC, a junior would be out by year 3 or so, give or take a half-year, if they consistently missed billables and there was no upward trend. At a firm closer to the bottom of the V100, such a junior might be let go sometime in their first full year. Such firms generally (though Vault isn't a perfect proxy) have lower margins than the cream of the crop and generally as a result police "deadweight" much more aggressively.

At any firm, once you get to year 5 or up, having awful billables is probably a recipe for a quick nudge to the exit door if not corrected in very short order.


I generally agree with this. The one thing I would qualify is that firms in the lower part of the V100 can go both ways - some of them are places that genuinely have somewhat lower billable hour expectations, others are places that are very active about cutting dead weight. I also think it's rare to be let go during your first full year at any firm, and if it happens it's usually because the low hours are a symptom of some other issue (like poor work product or being widely disliked).

I also think your last point is firm-dependent. Having awful billables as a mid-level or senior associate is certainly not good, but I've seen lots of good and well-liked associates coast for years on 1600-1800 (although they inevitably end up not making partner).

QContinuum

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Re: how low can you go --> BIGLAW edition

Postby QContinuum » Thu Nov 29, 2018 7:22 pm

"Acceptable" generally means hitting the minimum or very close to it. If you miss the minimum by less than 100-200 for a single year, that's usually not a concern (in terms of being able to stay, that is; you'll probably miss getting a bonus that year). If, say, the minimum's 2000, and you're billing 1600, that's a problem. And if you consistently undershoot the minimum by 100-200, that's a problem too; people understand fluctuations in work load, but you should generally be hitting at or above the minimum.

Most firms give stub- and first-years considerably more leeway (although again, there've been stories of low Vault firms cutting first-years loose for billing too little). At any firm, it's not uncommon for first-years to miss the minimum, often by a pretty wide mark. (It's even more common for stub-years to bill very little, as it generally takes time to integrate new associates, particularly in litigation.) But there should be a significant upswing in hours toward the end of the first full year at the latest. If a second-year is still on track to substantially undershoot the minimum, that's a problem.

hlsperson1111 wrote:I generally agree with this. The one thing I would qualify is that firms in the lower part of the V100 can go both ways - some of them are places that genuinely have somewhat lower billable hour expectations, others are places that are very active about cutting dead weight. I also think it's rare to be let go during your first full year at any firm, and if it happens it's usually because the low hours are a symptom of some other issue (like poor work product or being widely disliked).

I also think your last point is firm-dependent. Having awful billables as a mid-level or senior associate is certainly not good, but I've seen lots of good and well-liked associates coast for years on 1600-1800 (although they inevitably end up not making partner).

Your points are well-taken. I agree with your caveat about some low Vault firms having genuinely lower billable expectations (perhaps going hand-in-hand with paying somewhat below market), and also your caveat that sometimes there are folks who manage to cruise by on low hours for years (though no one should count on this model working out for them, as it's very much the exception to the rule!).



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