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ANALYSIS: Why Didn’t Remote Work Change Law Firm Billings?

Aug. 11, 2021, 9:00 AM

At the outset of the pandemic, I believed that the shift to working remotely would have a profound effect on the amounts clients would see on their law firm invoices. Because attorneys weren’t commuting, traveling to hearings or depositions, or being interrupted by people in the office, I figured they would work more efficiently, without interruption, for longer blocks of time. This would surely result in fewer billable hours. However, the results of Bloomberg Law’s Remote Practice Survey suggest my prediction did not come to pass.

According to our survey (conducted in June and July), only a little more than one-quarter of law firm respondents that bill hours (26%) reported a decrease in the average number of hours they bill per case since social distancing restrictions were put in place. In fact, the same proportion of respondents (26%) actually reported an increase in their billings—and 39% reported no change in their billings at all.

The decreased billings I anticipated didn’t happen possibly because the time attorneys might have saved by removing their commute, travel to and from hearings, and office interruptions was instead replaced by workday distractions from children, spouses, and everyday home life. And emails, phone calls, and meetings disrupt work at home as much as they do in the office.

It could also be the case that attorneys have been able to work more efficiently at home, but companies provided additional work. After all, novel pandemic-related issues arose and more time may have been needed in each case to address these questions. Additionally, many attorneys may have found themselves with more matters to work on and could not work in long blocks of time on any one matter while shifting from one to another.

When considering all of this, it is not surprising that most of our law firm survey respondents reported that their average billings either remained the same or increased.

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