How to deal with not getting enough billable work?

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Anonymous User
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How to deal with not getting enough billable work?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 20, 2015 4:32 pm

I am a first-year associate at a patent boutique doing prosecution, with billed (not billable/recorded) requirement of between 1550-1750 depending on level.

I'm having some trouble because I find myself having to ask my supervisors for more work, and I don't want to bother them so much. More so because I have several cases pending because I'm waiting for reviews of drafts by supervisors and/or approval from clients to go ahead with certain actions. I might suddenly get green lights and be stuck between new work and previously pending work.

So far I kept a balance having one or two cases at my disposal. I have none now (hence pretending to work while posting on TLS) while I wait for go-aheads with all these cases I have.

I also feel like one of my supervisors tries not to give me any work even if I asked (I tried). Instead it seems to be mostly going to the new associate. On one hand, I'm glad because they were difficult cases. On the other hand, that client used to my main source of work.

For firm associates: How do you balance bothering your supervisors while maintaining efficiency? I could theoretically drag out the flat-fee cases because I do not get hours cut for those, but that seems unethical (if I do it too much on purpose anyway) and financially bad for the firm.

Hate how it's bad when there's no billable work while people in other jobs celebrate having no work left.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Sat Apr 25, 2015 7:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

jhett
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Re: How to deal wtih not getting enough billable work?

Postby jhett » Mon Apr 20, 2015 8:18 pm

I'm at a patent boutique. General strategy is to keep a backlog on your docket, but with staggered due dates. I generally keep 4-6 patent apps to draft in my queue, as well as 6-10 office actions. Sounds like you are keeping your backlog too thin, resulting in dead spaces.

Your more pressing problem right now is building the queue. How many partners are there in the firm? If you're not getting traction with certain partners, talk to others. In the meantime, try building your skills. Does your firm do IPR? If so learn the rules and let them know you can do it. Maybe pitch in with biz dev. Talk to other associates... maybe they are slammed and can offload some of it.

As for that supervisor that seems not to give you work, there are several possibilities. Maybe he/she just wants to get the new person up to speed. Maybe he/she doesn`t like your work. Maybe they wanr to direct certain tech to certain people. Continue gently prodding every so often, but mainly look elsewhere.

KidStuddi
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Re: How to deal wtih not getting enough billable work?

Postby KidStuddi » Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:08 am

Anonymous User wrote:I'm having some trouble because I find myself having to ask my supervisors for more work, and I don't want to bother them so much. More so because I have several cases pending because I'm waiting for reviews of drafts by supervisors and/or approval from clients to go ahead with certain actions. I might suddenly get green lights and be stuck between new work and previously pending work.

I also feel like one of my supervisors tries not to give me any work even if I asked (I tried). Instead it seems to be mostly going to the new associate. On one hand, I'm glad because they were difficult cases. On the other hand, that client used to my main source of work.


How does assigning work at your firm? Are you going to partners directly for work? Because I think partners would never be offended by someone asking to make them more money.

If the supervisor freezing you out is a mid/senior level associate, and it seems intentional, I would address it with that person directly. There could be real (re: non-capricious) reasons why the work is all going to the new associate -- I'm thinking the client may be particularly fee sensitive and therefore work is funneled to the most junior person available. Would explain why you used to get all of that work and now the new guy is getting all of that work. Or perhaps the client specifically requested you be taken off their matters or specifically requested someone else be put on, which does happen from time to time. Or the supervisor could just think you do shit work, which happens all the time. Either way, I think addressing the issue with him/her directly is probably where you have to start.

If that talk doesn't resolve your issues, I'd go over his head to the partnership. Ultimately they're the ones who are losing money if you can't work. They've got every incentive to give you more work, if it's out there.

Anonymous User
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Re: How to deal wtih not getting enough billable work?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 25, 2015 7:43 pm

Thank you both for your input. I have not forgotten your advice.

jhett: There are a few partners here who hand out work to the associates here. After that, they either hand out more individually or it's up to us to find more work. I usually go with one person when seeking work because I like the technology he handles and he is generally easy to reach and discuss cases with. He seems totally fine with giving me work, he seems to trust me (letting me talk to the examiner as a first year), and I also feel like I can be more forthright with him on a personal level.

At this point, I try to scavenge for whatever work he has left. I can usually stay warm for a couple days that way. I have also been reminding him of the pending matters with the client and examiner to move the cases forward, which has worked to develop more of a buffer.

Our firm also does litigation, and I have tried to get some mini projects with them. After my first project last month, the lit partner thanked me and asked me if I would be available for additional projects, and I said yes definitely. I haven't gotten another one yet. Understandably they want to keep work within the attorneys who know what they are doing, though.

One of the prosecution partners does appear to handle more advanced matters, not sure if it is IPR. I think your idea is good, and I will try to probe him about other aspects of his practice the next time I sit down with him.

Recently I have come to think that the supervisor who doesn't give me work probably does not like working with me, as opposed to my work (or it's both). For some reason early on in my tenure, we started growing apart. Upon reflection, I have reason to believe she has been singling me out for now, which led to a downward spiral of further alienation. Perhaps I did not meet the expectations she had when hiring me.

When asked about her abrasive tone, she has assured people that she is just being serious about work, not angry. Others say that she is just being her. I am starting to think otherwise when it comes to me. I feel extremely anxious whenever I have to speak with her or turn in a draft. It has gotten to the point I decided to take 5 minutes for deep breathing before interaction. It is a genuine physiological reaction, and it does not help with my productivity or efficiency.

But I accept that it is her style and try to do the best I can with the work that I do get from her so that I can earn back her approval, at least with work quality. However, at this point I am not comfortable bothering her for more work at least because whatever the reason, her work is funneled elsewhere. I want to believe it is to get the new guy to get up to speed with her training since that is what happened to me when I first started.

---

KidStuddi: I agree that partners would not be offended that I actually want to make them more money. Even without a quota, I would be working hard to do so. I believe that my work ethics have shown that thus far.

The supervisor is a partner, and the client is one of our biggest clients. Sure, prosecution matters are generally budgeted, but I wouldn't call the client fee sensitive.

I'm wondering whether sometimes the partners would rather do the work themselves to make the bill more palatable to the clients who are large yet more fee sensitive. In the past, I have been told a few times to ask the other supervisors for work. Perhaps they were too busy to even find work for me. But I will keep in mind that they have incentive to give me work.

---

Speaking of which, what are the economics of hiring and firing? Is it relatively simple for a law firm to fire or hire an associate, time and cost wise? What would be a good reason for a partner to want to fire an associate of a law firm? Does good work trump bringing in sufficient revenue (i.e., meeting the quota)?

Jchance
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Re: How to deal wtih not getting enough billable work?

Postby Jchance » Sat Apr 25, 2015 9:27 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Speaking of which, what are the economics of hiring and firing? Is it relatively simple for a law firm to fire or hire an associate, time and cost wise? What would be a good reason for a partner to want to fire an associate of a law firm? Does good work trump bringing in sufficient revenue (i.e., meeting the quota)?


From what I know, patent pros hiring is still low in supply with high demand, so if u have the right tech background (EE or CS), even if u dont meet the billables, they won't fire u because they would have a hard time finding another replacement. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous User
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Re: How to deal with not getting enough billable work?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 25, 2015 9:32 pm

Biglaw senior associate here. If you worked with me and I seemed to be freezing you out of work/sending all of it to someone else, and there wasn't a neutral explanation (e.g., giving work for a cost-sensitive client to a newer associate with a lower billing rate):

- The odds would be 99 percent that it has to do with your work quality and/or your availability to do work when needed. One or the other of these would be inferior to the person to whom I was sending work.
- I would usually just give work to the higher performer/more available junior associate without having a conversation with the lower performer/less available junior associate about their performance/availability issues. I assume that the latter associate is in the business of paying off their loans and is not as serious about building their career at the firm. Therefore, I'd simply prefer to allow them to pay off their loans without having a negative impact on my matters or forcing me to waste time/energy confronting them. However, if the latter associate came to me and expressed concern about not receiving work from me, I would give them a very direct, honest assessment (with specific examples) of why their past performance was causing me not to assign them new work.

I click with some juniors better than others, but honestly can't remember ever assigning (or not assigning) work based on whether I have a great (interpersonal) relationship with the junior. Some of the juniors I like best as people (and hang out with outside of work), I wouldn't assign work to no matter what. They're fun, but they don't do good work. And other juniors aren't my picks as happy hour buddies (or vice versa), but I want to work with them because they are competent hard workers.

If you're in your first 3-6 months at the firm, there can be ramp up issues that have nothing to do with your performance; you may not have had time to get fully integrated yet. Beyond that, in general, the high performers tend to be in demand and lower performers tend to be slow. If you see that you are markedly less in demand than others, I'd raise the issue directly with a partner you trust/feel comfortable with, and see if you can get some insight into whether there are performance concerns about you. If there are not, the partner may have some other ideas for you re: things you can try to increase your hours - e.g., building ties to partners who don't know who you are yet, but who could prove to be sources of work going forward. At one of the firms where I worked, I had slow months on and off for my first six months - then, I synced up with the partners with whom I ultimately developed the closest relationships - good fits based both on subject matter and personality. My billable hours jumped sharply (i.e. went up by 80-100 hours/month) and I was never slow again at the firm. Sometimes it's just about finding the right teams.

Anonymous User
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Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: How to deal with not getting enough billable work?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:Biglaw senior associate here. If you worked with me and I seemed to be freezing you out of work/sending all of it to someone else, and there wasn't a neutral explanation (e.g., giving work for a cost-sensitive client to a newer associate with a lower billing rate):

- The odds would be 99 percent that it has to do with your work quality and/or your availability to do work when needed. One or the other of these would be inferior to the person to whom I was sending work.
- I would usually just give work to the higher performer/more available junior associate without having a conversation with the lower performer/less available junior associate about their performance/availability issues. I assume that the latter associate is in the business of paying off their loans and is not as serious about building their career at the firm. Therefore, I'd simply prefer to allow them to pay off their loans without having a negative impact on my matters or forcing me to waste time/energy confronting them. However, if the latter associate came to me and expressed concern about not receiving work from me, I would give them a very direct, honest assessment (with specific examples) of why their past performance was causing me not to assign them new work.

I click with some juniors better than others, but honestly can't remember ever assigning (or not assigning) work based on whether I have a great (interpersonal) relationship with the junior. Some of the juniors I like best as people (and hang out with outside of work), I wouldn't assign work to no matter what. They're fun, but they don't do good work. And other juniors aren't my picks as happy hour buddies (or vice versa), but I want to work with them because they are competent hard workers.

If you're in your first 3-6 months at the firm, there can be ramp up issues that have nothing to do with your performance; you may not have had time to get fully integrated yet. Beyond that, in general, the high performers tend to be in demand and lower performers tend to be slow. If you see that you are markedly less in demand than others, I'd raise the issue directly with a partner you trust/feel comfortable with, and see if you can get some insight into whether there are performance concerns about you. If there are not, the partner may have some other ideas for you re: things you can try to increase your hours - e.g., building ties to partners who don't know who you are yet, but who could prove to be sources of work going forward. At one of the firms where I worked, I had slow months on and off for my first six months - then, I synced up with the partners with whom I ultimately developed the closest relationships - good fits based both on subject matter and personality. My billable hours jumped sharply (i.e. went up by 80-100 hours/month) and I was never slow again at the firm. Sometimes it's just about finding the right teams.

That's interesting to hear because I feel like the partner is always angry with me and definitely wouldn't have a drink with me. So I guess in my case it could be that both work product and interpersonal relations are not a good fit. Seems all right with the other partners though. I am trying to do good work for them and make myself one of the go-to people even though I am one of the junior associates.

Would one partner have sway in proposing to fire an associate if others with seniority don't see a reason to or disagree from their perspective?




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