Saturday, September 27, 2008

First Year Billable Hours

Ford & Harrison, an Atlanta-headquartered labor and employment law firm eliminated billable hour requirements for its first-year associates under an innovative program called "Year One." This program is proving to be a huge success. The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog reported that Year One is being well received by the firm's clients, associates, and partners alike. Under the program, first-year associates get to work directly with clients, and those clients are generally pleased to see a second lawyer working on their cases--at no extra charge. The associates enjoy the chance to work on depositions, negotiations, mediations, and arbitrations while first-year associates at other firms often spend their time on research projects and document review. Partners like the program because, to their surprise, it is helping the new associates become proficient and productive in a short amount of time; the reduced pressure seems to yield greater productivity, earlier.

The new attorneys must still account for 1,900 hours of work, but that work can be either billable to clients or time defined as training, such as working with partners on depositions, meeting with clients, and preparing cases for trial. Let's all tip our hat to this firm for finding an innovative way to increase client, associate, and partner satisfaction, and for developing a creative and successful alternative to the billable hour. Hopefully, we'll see more and more law firms taking a similar approach to first year laywers.