September 14, 2007
Leaving the Billable Hour behind...
Posted by Harwell Wells

is not something I've done just yet.   To be clear, I left the law firm almost fifteen months ago, and the day I surrendered my Blackberry was also the day I thought I'd quit viewing my time in six-minute increments.  But old habits die hard, and there are still afternoons when I look up and, for a split-second, panic that I haven't kept a record of what I've been doing all day.  This past Spring I was grading papers at home one evening, and upon finishing the last one the first thought that popped into my head was "one hour forty minutes."  Yes, I had been subconsciously tracking my time, just as I did when I worked at home while at the firm.  And the strange thing is, my firm was fairly reasonable as far as billable hours went -- they certainly wanted me to keep my hours up, but I was never called into a partner's office after a slow month, nor did I think I would be fired if I didn't bill 2400 hours a year.

For a while, I thought I was the only professor suffering from "billable hour hangover," but I recently read Patrick Schiltz's article "Legal Ethics in Decline," where he describes, two years after leaving law practice, feeling himself "getting jumpy when colleagues or students stop by my office to talk, because I have been so conditioned to regard time spent talking with anyone except clients as wasted."   I don't know that I have it quite as bad as Schiltz did, but I know what he is talking about.

So, when does the little billable hour clock in our heads go away?


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