Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

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Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 6:41 pm

After graduation I'm going to work at a small business litigation firm in a small/medium sized city (next to, and essentially in the same market as, a big city). I'll be making $50k base, with $10k incentives paid quarterly for hitting my monthly billable goals:150 hours, 1800/year. If I bring in any clients, I'll see a bigger chunk of those billables.

I know that isn't a lot of money. I know I've got $120k in debt. But I'm excited nonetheless. I clerked at the firm last Summer; I really like the attorneys, I really like the work they do, and I really like that it's in the city I was born in raised in and absolutely love. I think I can learn from these people and begin a successful and satisfying career. I have no idea how to become a rainmaker, but I'm confident (read: naive enough to think) that I have what it takes.

Am I an idiot for thinking that I'm going to be OK? $50k base isn't a lot by any means, but I'm a single K-JD with no kids . . . I don't need a lot. As a clerk, there seemed to be no shortage of work to go around; is 1800 the kind of soul-crushing requirement that TLS told me about four years ago when I was applying to law school? Am I going to be OK?

This is kind of a weird, disjointed post. But I just need to talk to somebody about all of this. I'd love any feedback/advice/discussion re: QOL at small firms, what an 1800-hour billable year looks/feels like, how to start your career, developing new clients, or anything else.

I'm just...excited. But nervous. Really, really nervous.

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fats provolone
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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby fats provolone » Thu Jan 29, 2015 6:47 pm

you'll be alright brah. get on that PAYE and see how you like the firm.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby JohannDeMann » Thu Jan 29, 2015 6:49 pm

Nah this sounds like a good opportunity. 10k bonuses for hitting hours is legit. Working with attorneys you like is the best possible situation. 1800 really isnt that tough and gives you time to vacation and work life balance.

Enjoy. I bet you'll get roughly 10k raises every year as well. By your 5th year, you'll be bringing in some business most likely and probably be making around 120k, which is good money in not expensive places and decent work-life.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lacrossebrother » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:01 pm

So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:01 pm

fats provolone wrote:you'll be alright brah. get on that PAYE and see how you like the firm.


OP here: Is PAYE one of those things you regret once you're into your career making decent money?

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby AreJay711 » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:02 pm

I have a friend in a similar situation. He likes it -- mostly because the partners at his firm sound awesome. He does a lot of cool shit that most biglaw junior associates didn't get to do. According to him, the fact that his work actually finds its way to a client or litigation makes him enjoy it more. And the office politics seem less convoluted than biglaw. He has a job as long as he's bringing in money and he will make partner if doing so puts money in the other partners pockets. He does work a lot though, but I think he got an extra bonus for exceeding his billable requirement at least.

As for bringing in business: I've heard you just really need to focus on doing excellent work. Getting your name out there is important and all, but really no one is going with some untested guy because he's likable. They might go with some guy with some experience because he's likable and might even jump ship to go with some dude who is well regarded and likable. You'll meet people who aren't clients of the partners at your firm doing depositions or contract negotiations and you can try to impress them there. I don't have any experience with building business, but that's what I've heard.

Edit: Laxbro is right about the $ thing. It does fuck you over if the firm gets slow. Doing PAYE and putting a bigger chunk in when you're in the money might be the best way to go. Or just go HAM every 3 months. Whatever.
Last edited by AreJay711 on Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby ruski » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:03 pm

it's sad how we consider 1800 to be good life balance. if you do the math and take out vacation and government holidays and the like you basically have to bill 40 hours a week. unless you're superman (or padding your hours) that's at least 50 hours in the office, probably closer to 60 since as juniors you wait around a lot and can't just bill straight from 10-6. 60 hours in the office is pretty bad. assuming the hours are at least somewhat consistent (given smaller firm, secondary market, less demanding client base), you're basically heading out around 8pm everyday.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:04 pm

lacrossebrother wrote:So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.


$60k/year assuming I meet my billables. Not even close to $90k. Did I say something confusing that lead you to that conclusion? Serious question.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby fats provolone » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
lacrossebrother wrote:So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.


$60k/year assuming I meet my billables. Not even close to $90k. Did I say something confusing that lead you to that conclusion? Serious question.

he thought you meant $10k bonus per quarter. not $10k spread out quarterly.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lacrossebrother » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:05 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
lacrossebrother wrote:So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.


$60k/year assuming I meet my billables. Not even close to $90k. Did I say something confusing that lead you to that conclusion? Serious question.

10k incentives paid quarterly

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:08 pm

lacrossebrother wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
lacrossebrother wrote:So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.


$60k/year assuming I meet my billables. Not even close to $90k. Did I say something confusing that lead you to that conclusion? Serious question.

10k incentives paid quarterly


My b. $10k incentive, paid in quarterly installments.*

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lawschoolftw » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:08 pm

Assuming you have the work, 1800 is nothing. It's 36 hours a week if you take two full weeks off. You should be able to spend 50 hrs/ week in the office and hit that, even being somewhat inefficient.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:09 pm

fats provolone wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
lacrossebrother wrote:So you're going to make $90k a year?
And you're going to take home, after taxes, insurance, 401k, etc, like $2900/month w/ no bonus, and like $9400 in the bonus months? I feel like you're going to have to be pretty damn responsible, at least starting off. Sucks they pay you like that. And normally w/ 120k in debt and 90k salary you could just do a standard 10yr repayment (at like $1350/month), but hopefully you can swing some refinancing bank where you just need to pay quarterly. If you miss your target, do you get 0 or is it prorated? if so, that's also really rough. And then you'd just do PAYE. Bc if youre expecting more like $70k a year, that's $485/month.


$60k/year assuming I meet my billables. Not even close to $90k. Did I say something confusing that lead you to that conclusion? Serious question.

he thought you meant $10k bonus per quarter. not $10k spread out quarterly.


Yeah that was a little confusing. Were you basing your all-around optimistic response on $90?

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby smallfirmassociate » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:After graduation I'm going to work at a small business litigation firm in a small/medium sized city (next to, and essentially in the same market as, a big city). I'll be making $50k base, with $10k incentives paid quarterly for hitting my monthly billable goals:150 hours, 1800/year. If I bring in any clients, I'll see a bigger chunk of those billables.

I know that isn't a lot of money. I know I've got $120k in debt. But I'm excited nonetheless. I clerked at the firm last Summer; I really like the attorneys, I really like the work they do, and I really like that it's in the city I was born in raised in and absolutely love. I think I can learn from these people and begin a successful and satisfying career. I have no idea how to become a rainmaker, but I'm confident (read: naive enough to think) that I have what it takes.

Am I an idiot for thinking that I'm going to be OK? $50k base isn't a lot by any means, but I'm a single K-JD with no kids . . . I don't need a lot. As a clerk, there seemed to be no shortage of work to go around; is 1800 the kind of soul-crushing requirement that TLS told me about four years ago when I was applying to law school? Am I going to be OK?

This is kind of a weird, disjointed post. But I just need to talk to somebody about all of this. I'd love any feedback/advice/discussion re: QOL at small firms, what an 1800-hour billable year looks/feels like, how to start your career, developing new clients, or anything else.

I'm just...excited. But nervous. Really, really nervous.


I've got you covered. I took a job making a little less than that out of law school. I was in a very small market. You're single; you and the federal loan repayment options will make it work. That bonus system sounds nice, and I would think you'd have a legit shot at partner if you could be profitable. I wouldn't let the money be your focus here.

One concern is the 1800 hour requirement. That's probably more than you think in a small firm (it's not that much in a big firm), but that depends on the nature of the litigation that you do. If you can work on one case for a whole day, multiple days, whatever, then you can really pile up some billables. If you're jumping around between files, going on the road to do depos, filing a one-off motion here or there, fielding phone calls from several clients every day, then 1800 hours can be a lot. A lot. I managed about 1200 my first year out of law school, 1600 my second, and that's roughly the pace I've kept since. Keep in mind this is BILLED hours, not billable. My hours actually go to the client, period. 1800 BILLED hours is more than 1800 billable hours. But between raising my rate to about double what it was then and developing a certain niche type practice where I'm a go-to guy (in our firm, area, region, state) in a few areas, I managed to pick up partner. I should bring in about $210k my first year as partner, which COL-adjusted translates to maybe $550k in NYC. I rarely work weekends, have minimal travel. So the money and lifestyle are there.

I'll point out, however, that you're kind of doing a typical thing that people do BEFORE accepting a job. You had a lot in your post about how much the job pays, what the billable requirements are, the bonus system, your debt, etc. You had basically nothing about the nature of the work. You said it's business lit and you said you really like the work. Push really hard on those statements. This is going to be your life. Every day, every week, every month, and if you stick around, every year for year upon year upon year until you die. Do some serious soul searching about what the work entails, and do so at the lowest level. Imagine your typical day. Imagine your clients. Imagine having facetime with them and not knowing answers to some of the questions but still coming across as intelligent and proficient. Imagine what the court appearances are like. Imagine going to community events, being involved, being a guest speaker, drumming up business. Imagine whether you're traveling. Imagine your desk, your office, your commute, your peers, your courthouse, your secretary, everything. This is really important when considering a small firm. They vary so much, and you want to really be comfortable with the details. And unlike biglaw, you can't just exit into a nice in-house gig if you hate it. You need to make this jump with minimal risk and maximum introspection.

Despite the risks, you're not crazy for considering this. You just need to be careful and strategic. I am very happy with the decision I made. In law school, it was a little hard to accept this offer and not go the biglaw route. It's not a prestigious job. I've had law school peers make disparaging, elitist, obnoxious remarks at cocktail parties, referring to the "real" amount of money they deal with or the "higher stakes" and whatnot. But over the years, they've left their jobs, they've admitted to being miserable, they've done a lot of things other than be happy. And here I am, typing on TLS today after leaving the office at 4, unwinding for a bit until my wife gets off work and comes home with the kids. Then we're going to eat together, play, color, and just be a normal family until whenever I want. Then I go into work whenever I want tomorrow. And I already have weekend plans that are in no danger of being canceled due to work.

I honestly feel like I hit the jackpot, but that ALL comes back to me finding the work I do tolerable. Hell, I'd call most of it rewarding and some of it fun. If I hated my work, disliked it, or even was apathetic toward most of it, I don't think the money would make me happy. Start with the minutae and work your way up, and you'll make the right decision. Good luck.
Last edited by smallfirmassociate on Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Desert Fox » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:16 pm

A friend of mine has a 1800 billable req, but anything that gets cut from the bill doesn't count. And they cut pretty hard. 1800 with cutting is essentially biglaw hours, but not uncle tom associate hours.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby LeDique » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:19 pm

lawschoolftw wrote:Assuming you have the work, 1800 is nothing. It's 36 hours a week if you take two full weeks off. You should be able to spend 50 hrs/ week in the office and hit that, even being somewhat inefficient.

i don't have a requirement, but i'll be around 1500 and i feel like i don't work very hard at all. adding the 5-6 hours a week to hit 1800 would obviously make my life less enjoyable, but not be terrible.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lawschoolftw » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:19 pm

Desert Fox wrote:A friend of mine has a 1800 billable req, but anything that gets cut from the bill doesn't count. And they cut pretty hard. 1800 with cutting is essentially biglaw hours, but not uncle tom associate hours.


That's a really great point. As a junior, I know my hours are cut pretty severely sometimes, but I get credit for time I actually bill.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lawschoolftw » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:27 pm

smallfirmassociate wrote:
One concern is the 1800 hour requirement. That's probably more than you think in a small firm (it's not that much in a big firm), but that depends on the nature of the litigation that you do. If you can work on one case for a whole day, multiple days, whatever, then you can really pile up some billables. If you're jumping around between files, going on the road to do depos, filing a one-off motion here or there, fielding phone calls from several clients every day, then 1800 hours can be a lot. A lot. I managed about 1200 my first year out of law school, 1600 my second, and that's roughly the pace I've kept since. Keep in mind this is BILLED hours, not billable. My hours actually go to the client, period. 1800 BILLED hours is more than 1800 billable hours. But between raising my rate to about double what it was then and developing a certain niche type practice where I'm a go-to guy (in our firm, area, region, state) in a few areas, I managed to pick up partner. I should bring in about $210k my first year as partner, which COL-adjusted translates to maybe $550k in NYC. I rarely work weekends, have minimal travel. So the money and lifestyle are there.


Just curious why you think it's different between small firm/big firm re: billable (as opposed to billed).

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lacrossebrother » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:30 pm

If you bill 1800 hrs @ $200, that's $360,000 to the firm.
You cost $60,000 + like 4.5% payroll tax = $62700.
Your office space, plus share of communal space, and shit, plus electricity costs like $8000/year/max at small firm in midsize city.
Your 1/3 share of a paralegal costs $15k a year.
You probably rack up $2500 in printing costs a year, and the rest of your IT infrastructure like another $1,000.
Then $12kish for westlaw?

So all in that's $101,200. So they're making $250k+ on you. Hopefully they give you a big bump 2 years in after they don't have to also write off the cost to train you.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby fats provolone » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:30 pm

times realization rate though

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:31 pm

smallfirmassociate wrote:Start with the minutae and work your way up, and you'll make the right decision. Good luck.


Thank you so much for your honest, thoughtful response. It really does sound like you're living a great life, and it's exactly where I'd love to be in 10-15 years. Of course, life gets in the way of the best laid plans. But congratulations. Really. I'm happy to hear you're happy.

You're right, I need to put more thought into the minutia of the work itself. It's an incredibly varied practice; the managing partner is a very prominent member of the community, and I really love how he's involved in the nuts and bolts of our city. He can drive down the main drag and point to all the businesses and discuss their histories, who the owners are, how he's been involved, etc. He's the epitome of a rainmaker, and the rest of the firm kind of feeds off of him - which could be bad if anything happens to him.

I need to ask those important questions: do cut hours count towards my total, who would my paralegal be, which office will I be in, etc. Thank you for giving me some context. It's exactly what I need.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby lacrossebrother » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:32 pm

fats provolone wrote:times realization rate though

which is what with small lit clients?

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:35 pm

lacrossebrother wrote:Hopefully they give you a big bump 2 years in after they don't have to also write off the cost to train you.


One of the reasons I'm so pleased with this firm is that when I was doing my homework, I specifically asked about this. I'm OK making pennies at the beginning; in reality, a baby lawyer isn't particularly competent or even valuable. I want to learn from professional, talented, ethical lawyers. But I also want room to grow. And every single attorney I spoke with about payment, including attorneys who left the firm to start their own practice/manage the local office of BigLaw firms, said that compensation was always commensurate with work ethic/work product/value created. Raises came unasked for, and were competitive. If you earn it, they'll pay you. And that's the kind of challenge I can get excited about.

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby fats provolone » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:36 pm

he just explained how you are valuable though. using numbers. and units of value

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Re: Small firm, 1.8k billable req. What's life going to be like?

Postby Desert Fox » Thu Jan 29, 2015 7:37 pm

2500 dollars in printing costs!??!




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