Working on the billable hour model is a lesson in the law of diminishing returns. At least that’s the takeaway from Yale Law School’s Career Development Office. According to Yale’s numbers, to bill 1800 hours per year you would have to “work” over 2400 hours, which includes your commute, taking lunch, and 1.5 hours for coffee breaks, meetings, and what Yale terms “reading legal updates and reviewing general correspondence.”1 Assuming you take five weeks of vacation per year (three personal and two holidays) and don’t work Saturdays, you would have to be “at work” about twelve hours per day. To achieve 2200 hours you would need be “at work” over 3000 per year.

This means to legitimately bill 1800 hours, you are going to burn 600 hours in non-billable time. To get to 2200, you are going eat over 800 hours which, hour for hour, equals over a month per year.

But there is a big problem with Yale’s scenario: it assumes that all the time associates spend doing legal work will be billable, and that all time billed will be realized time. Essentially, this means that there will be no cutting down on the associate’s billed time by either the supervising partner or the client. But in the real world, the supervising partner decides what portions of the associate’s billing gets put on the client’s bill, and what gets cut as either a favor to the client or because the associate either billed too much for the task, or billed for something for which the client will refuse to pay. Clients also get an opportunity to cut down bills, and either do it themselves or through third-party companies that get a cut of the money they save the client by cutting bills down. This means the total time an associate spends working to achieve their hourly mark is even higher than Yale’s estimates.

Let’s not forget about Yale making the assumption that associates at billable hour firms get to actually take five weeks of vacation. If you are one of these individuals please respond in the comments with your full contact information, so that we may study you. For science.

Featured image: “Businesswoman with clock being late for her deliverables” from Shutterstock.


  1. We all know this means looking at cat videos, Yale.