law firm values

From 996 to 1075 and a cap on billable hours – what’s going on?

If you missed it, last week TikTok owner Byte-dance announced that it was moving its employees away from their 996 work week to a new 1075 work week.

For the uninformed, which included me until last week, 9-9-6 required Byte-dance employees to work from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week. A time schedule that would make most lawyers blush. Fortunately for Byte-dance employees, their new – light-on – work schedule is 10-7-5, or from 10am to 7pm 5 days a week.

Clearly a step in the right direction when it comes to employee well-being and mental health.

Anyhow, I comment on this for three reasons:

  • First, Legal Cheek recently published a post that revealed the average working hours of junior lawyers in the UK. Of the 2,500 junior lawyers surveyed, junior lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis racked up the longest average working day, clocking on at a tardy 9:14am and off at 11:28pm. The survey is silent on whether this is a 5, 6 or 7 day week. I recommend you take a look at the full list, makes for rather sad reading (if junior lawyer mental health really is an issue of concern for the industry)
  • Second, last week the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Attorney Well-being suggested that there be a cap on billable hours at 1,800 hours per year.

The announcement had no less than Roy Strom comment on Bloomberg Law that:

Firms are too scared to impose a cap because it would be hard to hire the number of additional lawyers the cap would require. It would also put a huge dent in profits.


The billable hour serves as something of a measuring cup ambitious people pour themselves into. The unfortunate truth about Big Law is that it doesn’t have many alternative definitions of success.

If Roy’s comment is right, and it is an unfortunate truth that Big law has little alternative but to measure success by the amount of hours billed then, in my view, that is a really sad reflection of our industry. Because surely other metrics, such as the quality of the work provided and client satisfaction should have equal weighting. Not to mention churn and retention rates.

  • My third and last reason for commenting on all this is a personal one. I have long said that asking lawyers to work 2,000+ billable hours a year wasn’t a good thing – and there must be a reason why that is my most read post, so there is some comfort in seeing such an esteemed group as the New York Bar Association finally agree with me.

Have a great week all.


Photo credit to Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Can a falling A$ make selling Australian legal services easier overseas?

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As regular readers will know, I have written a fair amount in the past (see here and here) about how a depreciating Australian Dollar (A$) is likely to be unkind to the Australia-based partners of international law firms operating here. It was, therefore, pleasing to see a post ( ‘Will international firms still call Australia home?’) on the Australasian Lawyer website yesterday that largely echoed many of the comments I had previously made.

So, with (1) the Australian legal press and a number of eminent managing partners echoing my views, and (2) an A$ hovering around the 87c on the US$ mark, a new question now comes to mind:

Can a falling A$ make selling Australian legal services easier overseas?

The answer here will depend on your law firm, its culture and client base. But, assuming that your firm actively encourages cross-border collaboration (and there is a whole different post there), the short answer should be yes.

If that’s the case, then some of things you need to be considering include:

  • How recently did I update my website profile/CV? Are all my deals Australian-based? Am I showing regional experience? Indeed, am I using regional keywords in my website profile or only local Australian used ones?
  • What sectors in Australia are likely to benefit from a falling A$ (tourism?)? Do I have expertise or a story to sell here?
  • A falling A$ should make assets in Australia more attractive to international purchasers (case in point: pension funds looking at real estate?). What am I and my colleagues doing about this?
  • What is the Australian Government’s current policy towards a falling A$ and foreign direct investment (FDI)? Is there a story to tell here (and there most likely is if you look closely enough)?
  • Are there regional developments that I could take advantage of (for example, development of arbitration courts in Singapore and HK?)?
  • Are there any free trade agreements (FTAs) in pace that make the falling A$ attractive (export markets?)?
  • When was the last time I talked with my clients to see how they were being affected by market/currency fluctuations and what steps they are putting in place to get the most out of this (manufacturing/FMCG?)?
  • Is there any way I can help my clients out with the current environment (put them in contact with clients in Asia?)? Maybe I can/should attend a regional trade or industry conference.
  • How often am I communicating with my colleagues in Asia, US and Europe to discuss work opportunities (including the chance to work in US$s?)? [time differences may have put this off before; but if I can bill in US$s, suddenly 2am conference calls don’t look so bad!]
  • What local or regional opportunities (tenders, capability statements, etc) are my business development team working on? Is there any way I can get in on this?
  • What regional panels are my firm on and can I look to develop these? If so, who is the relationship partner?
  • Should I be considering a secondment to another office in our firm network or to a client outside Australia (Asia, Europe, US) [especially if I can charge US$ for it!]?

Clearly you will need to make sure that you are meeting your clients’ expectations. You will also need to make sure you have in place a fee mechanism that is considerate of the exchange rate, while being beneficial to you and your firm, and also allowing everyone to prosper from the situation.

But, at 87c on the US$, the value proposition of an Australian lawyer active outside of Australia (such as in Asia) should have become a lot easier to communicate today than it was a year ago.

Now for a word of caution:

if you have been billing a client (especially one outside Australia) for several years in A$s, now is not the time to suddenly, and without notice, start billing that same client in US$s.

Strange as it may seem, clients will quickly see through this move. So make sure you give this issue careful consideration (as clients have also been known to talk with each other!).

A word on the inter-generational issues going on at law firms

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When I was growing up, my Grandmother used to tell me that my generation (‘X‘) had never had it so good. Not that we were lazy mind, but that we didn’t have the work ethic of her generation. When I complained one day to my Mother about this treatment she told me that I misunderstood: my Grandmother wasn’t complaining about my slack arse nature, conversely she was pleased that my life was easier than hers had been – she now felt she had succeed in life. I said that I still didn’t understand and my mother told me that she doubted I would until the day I had children of my own. And while I still don’t have children, I do understand this deep need to try and make sure the life of generations to come will be easier than mine and that of my Mother’s (‘Baby Boomers‘).

So it was with interest that I read the recent post on the Australian Lawyer website by NSW Young Lawyers president Thomas Spohr – ‘A dangerous game: How older lawyers diminish their Gen Y colleagues‘ –  and the subsequent response by Ken Shepherd, the principal of Shepherd Legal – ‘A dangerous game: A matter of perspective‘.

Both posts are entertaining and raise serious issues and are well worth the reading time. Underlying them both though is a feeling that I’ve had this discussion somewhere before.

Now if you want to read an excellent post on how disenfranchised Millennials (or Gen Y) lawyers must be feeling as they enter the workforce, then you don’t need to go past a post written by Michelle Silverthorn on 17 July 2014 entitled – “My Generation” – which I now consider to be the final word on this issue.

In her post, under the paragraph titled ‘Reframe The Discussion’, Michelle writes:

“I’m often told that Millennial lawyers lack commitment to their employer, that we start looking for another job five minutes after starting a new one. That’s a fair criticism, but look at it from a different angle. Assume that, on average, the youngest Millennial lawyer completed law school at 26. That means that, on average, the youngest Millennial lawyer started practicing in 2007. The majority will be starting their practice in 2014 and later. This entire generation of attorneys will therefore have started working in an utter paradigm shift in the legal market [post 2007]…”

Wow! – given that Australia has a 5 year undergraduate Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) program, that equates to an entire generation (Millennials/Y) of new lawyers in #Auslaw for whom the #NewNormal has been nothing but ‘normal’.

Further, in Australia that’s an entire generation of lawyers who have never experienced a recession but who have operated – in a professional capacity – under circumstances never experienced in living memory.

Quite simply – that’s powerful. And to my shame, I had never even looked at it like this before.

So when Michelle then goes to say:

This entire generation of attorneys will therefore have started working in an utter paradigm shift in the legal market, where traditions have been upended, expectations have proven false, debt seems overwhelming, and jobs simply aren’t there. Not to mention the whirlwind of layoffs, stalled promotions and hiring freezes that started in 2009 and continue today. In other words, when you ask why Millennial lawyers won’t stay committed to an organization, ask yourself what in the past seven years has demonstrated that an organization will stay committed to them?

it makes me realise two things:

First, Michelle is wise beyond her years.

Second, my generation has failed in our duty to the next generation. We haven’t made life any easier for them – desite our bitching and moaning to the contrary – and the only question that now remains is whether or not there is enough time left to fix the problem and restore the equilibrium?


5 steps to take when your client becomes your biggest competitor

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One of the more interesting take-outs from an article (‘The Rise of in-house counsel: What does this mean for law firms?‘) published on the Australasian Lawyer website today – on the rise of in-house counsel numbers in #Auslaw – is the following comment by Katherine Sampson – managing director of Mahlab Recruitment:

“It’s not necessarily that they’re [in-house] going to a competitor firm, but they are going in house…”

To me this statement rings alarm bells and reads:

“your client has just become your biggest competitor!”

So, what steps should you be taking when your client has also just become your biggest competitor for that work?

Here are 5 things you should be putting in place immediately:


Celebrate “Values Day” – now isn’t that a great idea!

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Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m an avid follower of all things to do with business development, especially as it relates to Asia / Australasia. It’s with this hat on that I recently decided to follow Gordon Orr, Chairman, Asia at McKinsey & Company, as an Influencer on LinkedIn.

One of Gordon’s more recent posts was titled “Team Building In China”. While I found Gordon’s  post interesting, what stopped me in my tracks was the reason behind Gordon’s post – his attendance at the Shanghai office “Values Day”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve obviously heard of law firms having values – after all, nearly every law firm includes these on their website these days. But what I have never heard of before is of a law firm who holds its values so close to its core business strategy that it is willing to celebrate this in such a way (and if you are a law firm that does have a Values Day, please forgive me).

According to Gordon, McKinsey & Co.’s Values Day is:

“an annual event for everyone in the office (and in McKinsey offices worldwide) at which we celebrate and discuss our core values.”