Associates in the Trenches

2,000+ Club Stays Open 24/7

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Want to bill more than 2,000 hours a year? It’s not as hard as it seems –just be at your desk by 7 a.m., don’t take a lunch and limit personal Internet usage to no more than 15 minutes a day.

And if someone stops by to chat about a nonwork-related matter, tell the person that you’re headed to a meeting, even if you’re not.

“I might just tell them to leave, especially if it’s a good friend of mine,” says an Arizona litigation associate, who last year billed 2,200 hours. Like the other high billers interviewed, she prefers not to be named. That might be because her class’s average billable hours for 2003 were 1,900.

Case assignments partially explain why she billed approximately 300 hours a year more than her colleagues, this associate says. But time management also contrib­uted. It’s a skill many in the over-2,000 club have mastered.

Nosing around for work also helps, says a New York City corporate associate who generally bills 2,400 hours a year. He frequently calls partners in a variety of different locations to check in and inquire how certain transactions are going. Often, that results in the partner assigning him work.

“It’s a bit of sourcing internal clients, if you will,” the associate explains. “It doesn’t matter what the first task is. Once you’re associated with the project, in my experience you’re on the deal.”

Back in the late 1990s, when there was more work for mergers and acquisitions attorneys, he usually billed between 2,700 and 2,800 hours a year. At the time he was volunteering to do any assignments because he wanted to set himself apart from the other associates. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work.

“When there’s a full weekend a month that you’re not getting any sleep, that just sucks,” he says.

A Personal Price

But maintaining such a heavy schedule did take a toll on this associate’s personal life. During his highest-billing phase, he got a divorce. He says his wife’s displeas­ure with his long hours was partially to blame. Now remarried, he says his second wife is more understanding of his work schedule.

Not all spouses object to long hours, of course. And that’s good news for Andrew Struve, a Los Angeles litigation associate who in 2003 billed 3,060 hours and does not mind being named for his accomplishment.

“I think she recognizes that this is something I like to do, and she wants me to be happy,” he says of his spouse, a real estate executive.

“A job is not like an infliction. It’s something to be celebrated,” Struve adds. “All too often the conception is that the spouse suffers, but that seems to me to be too focused on the concept of [working long hours] being something negative.”

In practice since 1998, the 3,000 range is common for him. His work has led to a merit promotion from his law firm, allowing him to skip one class year.

“It was not really the billables that triggered a level increase,” he says, but also supposedly things such as quality and client-firm service.

Struve usually gets to his West Los Angeles office by 7 a.m. The early start allows for uninterrupted work. “You can get a lot more careful thought done before the telephone starts ringing,” he says.

He generally has a working lunch and limits personal Internet usage “to a minute or two, literally,” to check on his stocks. And Struve never chats on the phone unless it’s with a client. “If I want to chat, I can do it all through the week on my cell phone. I’ve got unlimited minutes,” he says. He uses drive-time to make personal calls, but admits he also squeezes in client call-backs. “You can do billable hours from the San Diego Freeway,” he says. “It’s a way to be productive in an otherwise unproductive time.”

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