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Valuable work isn’t always billable: Rethinking how lawyers use non-billable hours

The “Great Resignation” is still going strong. News outlets and blogs are filled with content about how professionals are job-hopping in droves, and your firm has likely been affected by this massive trend.

With attorney turnover close to 25%, many law firms are responding to the crisis with increased salaries and enhanced benefits. Although these are undoubtedly appealing to many, not everyone is jumping ship for a bigger payday. The type of work lawyers are doing can matter just as much as the amount they are being paid to do it.

Time is limited for impactful work

The adage that there are never enough hours in a day has perhaps never been truer. Many workers complain that meetings take away too much time that could be used for productive (and billable) work. Although a packed schedule certainly plays a role, recent data from Zapier indicates that administrative tasks like data entry or document management are taking up 1-3 hours a day for over 70% of knowledge workers. The result is that the majority spend less than three hours a day on impactful work.

Naturally, these stats should alarm law firms hoping to increase the hours billed by their attorneys. However, not every hour can (and should) be billed, and that non-billable time can be just as crucial to overall job satisfaction as salary and benefits. The number of hours spent on administrative tasks compared to more meaningful non-billable work can make the difference between a happy lawyer and one looking to make the leap to another firm.

Meaningful tasks aren't always billable

Although administrative work undoubtedly provides value, few lawyers would consider it the best use of their time. There are plenty of other ways attorneys could spend their hours that would provide far greater job satisfaction and benefit to the firm overall. Here are just a few of the more meaningful tasks that attorneys could be working on instead:

Client relationship building

A happy client is a loyal client. And it takes more than timely and satisfactory deliverables to make a client happy. Having time to connect with clients without billing them is critical to keeping the relationship strong—but that simply isn’t possible for lawyers who are buried in administrative tasks.

Business development

In addition to enriching relationships with current clients, it’s also crucial that lawyers have time to develop connections with potential ones. Bringing in new business is essential for firm growth, but it isn’t an option when attorneys are too busy to do it.

Practice development

This is especially crucial for junior associates, who often bear the brunt of the administrative burden. Rather than spend hours organizing files or chasing signatures, it would undoubtedly be of far greater value for younger lawyers to spend time developing a strategy for and specializing in the practice area that interests them the most.  

Strategy and planning

In order to think about the business, you need to be able to step away from the business. Strategy and planning require focused attention and fresh thinking, but lawyers booked up with lower-value work are unlikely to bring their best ideas to—or even have time for—strategy sessions.

Creating more time in the day

Your lawyers need time to do high-value, non-billable work. Rather than risk burnout or resignation with longer hours, it’s better to shorten the number of hours spent on administrative work. The right technology makes that possible.

Deal closing is a time-consuming process ripe for improvement. Junior associates in particular are often required to spend long hours preparing documents, gathering signatures, and preparing closing books. These hours could be used for more meaningful work that would create more value for the firm—even if they can’t be billed. Legal transaction management technology like iManage Closing Folders can help your lawyers run deals with unparalleled efficiency, so they can use their time for more impactful work—and ultimately lay the groundwork for the next deal.

Empowering lawyers to work smarter

In a competitive hiring market, now is the time to rethink old processes and give time back to your lawyers. Learn more about how your firm can reduce the administrative burden in a new white paper from Deep Analysis.

About the author

Gia Tammone-Park