Here’s an original way to manage lawyer numbers: If you’re too scared to fire people, maybe you could murder them instead.
I don’t know if this is what Allen & Overy is trying to do by bringing in increased targets of 2,200 hours for associates, but by the end of the year there’s going to be some pretty knackered lawyers at the firm.
It’s not that the actual billable hours component is too high – a number of City firms work on the basis that associates should be billing around 1,600 to 1,700 hours a year.
But this extra 500 or so hours that should be spent on this, that and the other? It seems a bit much to me.
This works out that lawyers should be notching up 10 office hours a day on the new schedule. Magnanimously A&O acknowledges that lawyers probably won’t spend this amount of time in the office.
But don’t worry, it has thought about that too. In a memo, A&O says: “A lot of the reading needed to keep on top of know-how can be done on your journey to/from work.”
What if you drive or walk to work? Maybe this is what trainees are for, to run alongside associates while reading aloud from big law books.
This all appears to be a very American approach to time management. After all, US lawyers are legendary for their ability to bill. Thought about a client while on the toilet? That’ll be $150, please. Mind wandered to a case while taking a shower? Let’s make it an even $200.
Comparing transatlantic billing targets, US firms will expect to see associates bill around 2,000-2,200, compared with the UK’s 1,600-1,700 figure.
But US firms have bigger billing units – 15 minutes, compared with a UK average of around six minutes – so the targets more or less equate.
And, possibly a little more peculiar, is that A&O is stating that lawyers do at least five hours of pro bono a year. It’s not clear if this is mandatory, but if it is, it’s a bit off.
I thought the whole point of pro bono was that lawyers helped people out of the goodness of their hearts (honestly), not that they have to be forced into it.
I would be shocked if associates put up with this. It’s all very well for A&O to go on about its values, such as “respecting and including every individual”, but what about respecting their personal life? Doesn’t a happy lawyer make a better lawyer?