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Billable Hours Are Back for Some In-House Attorneys

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 01, 2016 11:58 AM

Apart from the motivation of having much more independence, going in-house traditionally meant that lawyers could do away with the drudgery of having to track their hours. Working in-house generally meant that lawyers would work to complete and fix problems.

Recent chatter in the legal rumor-mill suggests that more and more in-house lawyers have taken to keeping track of their hours voluntarily. Here, we briefly look at some of the reasons that might be behind this trend.

Rationale of Billable Hours

For in-house counsel, the incentive to keep track of hours has to do with -- unfortunately -- padding. An attorney's work is a very fuzzy thing so it is difficult to grab an attorney's work by the collar, sit it down, and really assess it for quality. Depending on the nature of the work, skill of the attorney, and even the field of practice, it would be an understatement to say there is some wiggle room. As many clients suspect, that wiggle room is often abused.

In-house lawyers, it is thought, generally shed the incentive to pad hours because they are no longer beholden to associate reviews. But company norms have changed and the practice of billable hours seems to have moved in to affect in-house counselors too.

Here's Why

Since the 2008 recession, employee metrics have played an increasingly prominent role in HR and resource management. The name of the game is to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of every single piece of equipment, person, thing. Stephen Kaplan, an in-house with an Orlando, Florida company has been voluntarily tracking his hours for years just in case his employer ever asks him to justify the cost of keeping him on the team. He says it is rare that you'll be asked to justify your presence, but that it's nice to have a record there, just in case.

Part of the dread of billable hours in the past was having to physically whip out a pen and cogitate over the number of minutes expended to such and such task. To a degree, a small amount of that remains, but technology is making it increasingly less burdensome to keep track of one's hours. Kaplan uses the online app Paymo. Unfortunately, you still must remember to turn timers on and off -- but at least the application will tot up the numbers for you in the end.

Going Through the Motions

The trend could also be due to the structure of employment contracts. Some employment contracts require employees to keep track of time -- and this includes lawyers. Here, the in-house lawyers will probably be less inclined to falsify time-sheets because the company-employer will not countenance that game. Thus, in those cases, the phenomenon of in-house lawyers tracking their billable hours is simply a required drudgery from which they derive no pleasure.

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