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Messages - grand slam

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[...] as opposed to a lousy $30 an hour, say, a typical entry-level prosecutor gets!

I wouldn't grant even $25/hr, let alone $30/hr


One day, not too long after you start practicing law, you will sit down at the end of a long, tiring day, and you just won't have much to show for your efforts in terms of billable hours. It will be near the end of the month. You will know that all of the partners will be looking at your monthly time report in a few days, so what you'll do is pad your time sheet just a bit. Maybe you will bill a client for 90 min for a task that really took you only 60 min to perform. However, you will promise yourself that you will repay the client at the first opportunity by doing 30 min of work for the client for "free." In this way, you will be "borrowing," not "stealing." And then what will happen is that it will become easier and easier to take these little loans against future work. And then, after a while, you will stop paying back these little loans. You will convince yourself that, although you billed for 90 min and spent only 60 min on the project, you did such good work that your client should pay a bit more for it. After all, your billing rate is awfully low, and your client is awfully rich.

And then you will pad more and more -- every 2 min telephone conversation will go down on the sheet as 10 min, every 3 hrs research project will go down with an extra quarter hr or so. You will continue to rationalize your dishonesty to yourself in various ways until one day you stop doing even that. And, before long -- it won't take you much more than 3-4 years -- you will be stealing from your clients almost every day, and you won't even notice it. You know what? You will also likely become a liar. A deadline will come up one day, and, for reasons that are entirely your fault, you will not be able to meet it. So you will call your senior partner or your client and make up a white lie for why you missed the deadline. And then you will get busy and a partner will ask whether you proofread a lengthy prospectus and you will say yes, even though you didn't. And then you will be drafting a brief and you will quote language from a Supreme Court opinion even though you will know that, when read in context, the language does not remotely suggest what you are implying it suggests. And then, in preparing a client for a deposition, you will help the client to formulate an answer to a difficult question that will likely be asked -- an answer that will be "legally accurate" but that will mislead your opponent. And then you will be reading through a big box of your client's documents -- a box that has not been opened in 20 years -- and you will find a document that would hurt your client's case, but that no one except you knows exists, and you will simply "forget" to produce it in response to your opponent's discovery requests.

Do you see what will happen? After a couple years of this, you won't even notice that you are lying and cheating and stealing every day that you practice law. None of these things will seem like a big deal in itself -- an extra 15 minutes added to a time sheet here, a little white lie to cover a missed deadline there. But, after a while, your entire frame of reference will change. You will still be making dozens of quick, instinctive decisions every day, but those decisions, instead of reflecting the notions of right and wrong by which you conduct your personal life, will instead reflect the set of values by which you will conduct your professional life -- a set of values that embodies not what is right or wrong, but what is profitable, and what you can get away with. The system will have succeeded in replacing your values with the system's values, and the system will be profiting as a result.

It is true that not every lawyer knowingly and blatantly lies on his time sheets. But there is a reason why padding time sheets has been called "a silent epidemic." Lots of lawyers pad time sheets in ways that are less obviously dishonest and more socially accepted. For example, a lawyer who needs to fly from L.A. to N.Y. for one client may do the work of another client during the 5-hr flight, and bill both clients 5 hrs -- the first for 5 hours of travel, the second for 5 hours of work. Another common practice is for lawyers not to fill out their time sheets until the end of the day - -or end of the week -- or even end of the month. When a lawyer sits down on July 31 and tries to remember how much time she devoted to a client's work on July 9, 272 it is only natural that she will underestimate the amount of time wasted on coffee breaks and personal phone calls and overestimate the amount of time devoted to the client's work. Another widely accepted way of padding time sheets is to bill in minimum increments of, say, .25 hours or .30 hours. This permits the enterprising lawyer to engage in four 2-min phone calls and bill 1 hour.

[...] Efficiency is not speed; it's how close you are to what you think the client will pay. The incentive for lawyers is therefore not to do things quickly, but to spend as much time as possible working on something without going over the amount of time you think the client will pay for. Most lawyers will swear up and down that they don't do this. And for good lawyers, that's actually more true than not. But in the era of the billable hour, it's little wonder that the legal profession has such a bad reputation. We're not paid to work quickly, or even to work hard; we're paid to spend time.

Suppose you're a great lawyer, and you're just quick. Suppose you can do in 5 hours what it takes the average lawyer 10 hours to do. Because you're so fast, you only bill 1500 hours in a year. That's good, right? You're faster than the guy in the office next to you and your clients are happy because their bills are lower. Awesome, right? No, because congratulations, you're fired. If you fail to meet your annual billing requirement, you get shown the door. This is true even if you're a great lawyer who can simply do things faster than everyone else. The product of a law firm is billable hours, and the goal is therefore quantity, not quality. In an industry where time is the economic unit of trade, good work done fast is actually bad work.

In any law firm, lawyers are measured by the amount of time they spend working. The more billable hours a lawyer has, the more valuable she is to the business. Whether she's a good lawyer or not is a secondary consideration. Sure, it matters, but it doesn't matter that much. Good lawyers — particularly good and fast lawyers — are consistently passed over for promotions and bonuses at the end of the year. This is a bad thing for the legal profession, because the most valuable lawyers end up being the ones who work a lot, not the ones who are the best.

Well, I guess thanks to these "tricks" and the "working slowly" principle lawyers adhere to, biglaw doesn't appear to be that scary!


In February 2003, the New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton announced that she would support a national identification card for US citizens claiming that she would support it as part of an overall effort to improve national security.

"Clearly, we have to make some tough decisions as a country," Clinton warned. "And one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry and exit system so that if we're going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let's have a system that keeps track of them."

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