Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Billable-Hours

Apr 22, 2015

Law Firm Associate Attorney Billable Hours


I am a solo attorney in upstate New York. My practice is limited to estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. I have just hired my first associate and am trying to get a sense of the number of billable hours I should expect her to produce. You comments would be appreciated.


For many years the national norm for all firms has been around 1750 billable hours – much higher for litigation firms – often in the 1800-2000+ range. In my experience I find 1650-1700 a good target for most firms. However, I am finding that 1500 is more the norm for estate planning firms such as yours, especially if the attorney is also doing new client intake interviews and meetings. As a general rule attorneys should be billing approximately 70% of their total worked time. Of course this all assumes that you have adequate work to keep you both busy on a full load.

Lexis has published a couple of studies on billable hours that you might find useful - Billable Hours Survey Report, Non-Billable Hours Survey Report and Where Do all the Hours Go

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC


Nov 27, 2012

Law Firm Financial Improvement Plan for 2013


Our 17 attorney firm has had less than stellar revenues and profitability for the last several years. Our billing and realization rates are in line, we have a good mix of partners and associates, we have managed our expenses effectively, and our accounts receivable are at satisfactory levels. The culprit is utilization – billable hours. Partner annual billable hours are around 1100 hours and associate billable hours are around 1300.  Everyone seems to be working hard. I would be interested in your thoughts?


Sounds like you have given the RULES (rates/realization, utilization, leverage, expenses, and speed/collection) formula careful thought and analysis. I agree that you have a problem with utilization. General guidelines for partners and associates for annual billable hours are in the 1700 range with litigation firms being much higher and smaller general practice firms being lower – sometimes in the 1500 range. However, 1100/1300 billable hours is a problem and should be looked into to determine the exact nature of the cause. Causes could be any one or a combination of the following:

  1. Insufficient work – lack of business
  2. Poor work ethic – not working hard enough
  3. Poor time management habits – lack of focus, goals, plan
  4. Poor time keeping habits – not recording the time and getting it captured in the system

Each attorney in the firm may have different problem areas. For some it may be they need to work harder. Set expectations and enforce them. Others may need more work and if work is not available their non-billable time should be focused on marketing and other firm building efforts. For those that have time management and or time keeping problems training/skill development should be provided.

Suggest you conduct a review and discussion with each attorney in the firm to identify causes and engineer an agreed to plan with each to work on appropriate problem areas. If habits need to be changed – be patient – changes in habits take practice and time.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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