Life on the hamster wheel: How to beat billable hours

ONE OF THE MOST COMMON REASONS lawyers leave jobs with traditional firms is due to the sheer tedium of their former routines. Many lawyers join us at Setfords because they felt like robots – having to account for their every move, eight hours a day, five times a week.

These formerly employed solicitors found measurement mundane. Forced to measure out their time in the six-minute intervals their firms insisted they charge their clients, their days were dull, inflexible, and dictated by the dreaded billable hour. Their memories conjure a dreary dystopia in which eyes see-saw between clock and work, clock and work, clock and work… As if all the training they had done had led them inexorably to a hamster’s wheel of racking up hourly tenths. What a way to live…

Billable hours, RIP

This Legal Futures article highlights many of the problems associated with the charging convention. It alludes to Tim Williams’ amusing ‘obituary’ to billable hours, which provides 12 reasons the practice should be dead.

“The most pressing [problem] is that the billable hour discourages innovation because it actively rewards inefficiency…” Jim Hitch argues. Which may be why “most associates call it a living hell”.

The article also alludes to a few alternatives to billable hours, though those alternatives don’t appear to have gained much traction within law firms. So, that leaves employed solicitors with a relatively straightforward choice: tolerate the charging convention or find a different way. A way that allows them to break away from relentless routines built of six-minute intervals.

Weave a better life

At Setfords, our model gives consultant solicitors the freedom to work when they like, where they like, and as much as they like. Of course, they still need to find solutions to their clients’ legal challenges. But our consultants enjoy solving those issues far more, because they’re able to fit them around their many and various hobbies and lifestyle habits, instead of watching the clock and cramming in their hours.

Here, we provide a selection of short statements from three former employed solicitors. Each contrasts the “living hell” endured by those trapped by the billable hour, with the joy of beating the convention by joining us as consultants. See how they weave work with family time, work with leisure, work with relaxation…

Runner Chris Sexton wanted a brighter outlook:

“I got tired of the targets because I felt that people were looking over my shoulder all the time. There was a lack of trust and I felt I didn’t have enough freedom.

“My favourite thing about Setfords is the flexibility and that I can work as and when I want to with whom I wish to work. I have the choice and I’m now my own boss. I wanted to be able to fit my work into my life, not my life into my work. Setfords enables me to do that.

“I belong to a local running club. As a sport, it is often quite weather-dependent. So, I can get up in the morning, look out the window and, if it’s really lovely, I can do my run and work in the afternoon or evening.”

Sarah Edwards yearned for puppy love:

“When I left my previous firm as a partner, I knew I didn’t want to go back to a traditional firm, work super-long hours and try and hit targets that are sometimes unachievably high. I have a partner and a puppy and wanted a balanced lifestyle.

“My favourite thing about being a consultant solicitor is the freedom to manage my time myself. Now, I can work as much or as little as I like.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Thompson wanted better rewards:

“Financially, Setfords is much better than traditional firms. I don’t have to worry about the nightmare that is budgets or billable targets. There’s no pressure from anyone else: it’s all up to you, so there is a lot more freedom, and it’s a lot more relaxed. You also get rewarded for the work you do. Often, in big traditional firms, working longer or harder doesn’t actually mean any more money. But at Setfords, it does.”

The great escape

Escaping billable hours gives you the freedom to do more of what you want. That could be spending more time with your family, travelling, relaxing or anything in between. You can also reap the benefits of higher earning potential, a nationwide network of lawyers, and the biggest support team in the alternative law firm industry included in your fee split.

Is consultancy for me?

If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

The next step towards a better way of working…

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        This allows us to send you the information you need to know about consultancy

        This enables us to get in touch and discuss life as a Setfords consultant

        Currently, we can only work with lawyers qualified under one of these regulatory bodies