LexInsight Blog

Surviving the Billable Hour Requirement: How      Mindful Practices Can Increase Productivity in Law Firms

Jul 19, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Elizabeth LaVelle Murray

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We’ve all been there: it’s closing in on midnight and, somehow, you’re still hours away from calling it for the day. With a looming pile of briefs, deposition summaries, and pre-trial reports stacked on the corner of your desk, it’s easy to question why you got yourself into this profession in the first place.

Whether you are a stressed-out associate working in ‘Big Law’ or a partner at a mid-size firm, learning to navigate the billable hour is a universal growing pain in the legal profession. While the exact requirements may differ from firm to firm, learning to count your life by the tenth of an hour almost always leads to stress, anxiety, burnout, and even depression.

How Mindfulness Practices Can Ease Billing Stress

If you’ve ever had to face the daunting task of making your billable hour requirement, then you know just how stressful the last week of the month can be. Whether you’re working towards a competitive bonus or just trying to get by, there is a special sort of hell that comes with tracking and capturing all of your time day in and day out.

In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, attorneys are a whopping 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers and a staggering number of attorneys nationwide have been lost to suicide. As startling as these numbers may seem at first glance, anyone with a billable hour requirement (or anyone that loves someone with a billable hour requirement) can understand just how much anxiety this culture creates. After all, for most attorneys working under this structure, an average 8-hour day usually only yields at best 5-6 hours of billable time, making late nights and weekends an absolute necessity.

So, how can mindfulness practices help? Put simply, learning to be mindful eases anxiety. By learning to live in the present, whether it is through a yoga or meditation, you learn to stay grounded and tackle that seemingly daunting to-do list one bit at a time. Practically speaking, mindfulness practices such as yoga and pranayama (breathwork) also soothe the sympathetic nervous system and, on a cellular level, reduce stress hormones and even blood pressure. The result? Calmer, happier, healthier, and more productive attorneys.

Mindfulness Practices and Productivity

One of the biggest costs of the billable hour culture is associate retention. Now more than ever, attorneys across the country are demanding a better way of life and are choosing to forgo seven figure salaries in exchange for time with their families, opportunities to travel, and a less stressful way of living. Put plainly, if firms want their associates to stick around past the industry standard 3-5 years, something has to give.

This is where mindfulness practices come in. Believe it or not, making these resources available to your firm can lead to increased productivity and, in turn, higher retention rates. Think about it, when associates learn coping strategies to deal with the stress associated with billing requirements, less time is spent frantically cramming numbers on the 30th or escaping the workday grind. Basically, learning to live in the present allows you (or the attorneys you supervise) to sit down, get to work, and crank out the billing figures of your dreams.

The same goes for billing bonuses. As any over-achieving attorney will tell you (and, let’s be honest, most of us are pretty big go-getters), earning that fat chunk of change after the first of the year is one of the greatest accomplishments you can achieve in your professional career. Impressive billable hour stats (and their accompanying bonus structures) are also critical if you’re dreaming of making junior partner someday, much less adding your name to the firm’s letterhead or buying into a share of the pot down the line.

So, what’s the secret to earning that dream bonus? Using your time more effectively and efficiently. And how do you do that? You guessed it…by practicing mindfulness. It’s easy to kept swept up in the what-if’s of billing dread but, ironically enough, you’re simply wasting potentially billable time by doing as such. Just imagine how much time you could save (and bill!) if you stopped blankly staring at your computer screen from burnout or mindlessly scrolling through social media…

Ready to get started? Start with this easy chair yoga sequence that can be done right at your desk! You can also try these simple meditations, specially designed for a quick mental break during the workday. Who knows, with a little practice, that billing bonus might not be so unattainable after all…

Topics: For Contract Attorneys

Elizabeth LaVelle Murray

Written by Elizabeth LaVelle Murray

Elizabeth LaVelle Murray received her Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School in 2016 and is presently admitted to practice in the State of New York as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. While working as a first-year litigator in downtown Boston, Elizabeth turned to yoga and meditation in an attempt to ease the anxiety associated with her high-stress job. She quickly fell in love with mindfulness practices, and eventually left private practice in pursuit of her true passions for writing and yoga. Elizabeth currently works as a full-time freelance writer and yoga instructor in New York City, and is also the founder of the popular blog and wellness brand, The Yogi Lawyer. She is passionate about bridging the gap between mindfulness and access to justice, and continues to give back to her community as a pro bono attorney.