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Litigation Firm Sanford Heisler Cuts Lawyer Billable Hours (1)

Sept. 8, 2021, 8:14 PMUpdated: Sept. 8, 2021, 9:37 PM

Litigation boutique Sanford Heisler Sharp is reducing its annual billable hourly requirements for the firm’s roughly 100 attorneys.

Chairman David Sanford announced in an email to attorneys on Sunday that the firm is cutting its minimum to 1,920 hours, which includes all administrative and professional development time, from 2,160.

The move, which applies to partners and associate attorneys, reduces monthly billable requirements to 160 hours from 180. It will apply retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021.

The firm two years ago was conducting reviews and saw that people were billing over 2,400 hours a year, including professional and administrative time, Sanford said in an interview with Bloomberg Law. The firm then made a commitment to get its people some help with the high billing load by hiring more attorneys and formally reducing its hourly expectation on Sept. 1, he said.

“We thought it was an important thing to do for the firm to show our commitment to more of a work-life balance and also in recognition of the fact that in the pandemic, people have been able to be more efficient,” said Sanford, who co-founded the firm in 2004.

The move by the New York-founded litigation shop, which has garnered attention in recent years for representing lawyers in pay and other discrimination suits against their firms, comes as Big Law firms find their lawyers facing mountains of work in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. That has sparked a recruiting war, particularly for corporate associates, and concerns of lawyer burnout.

Associates at the country’s 50 largest law firms are on pace to bill 1,817 hours on average this year, up nearly 10% from 1,652 hours a year ago, according to a recent a Wells Fargo Private Bank survey.

Though the firm isn’t in the same competitive space as Big Law firms, Sanford said the firm is mindful that people on the defense side can make more money, and those who work in the government can work fewer hours.

“We thought it was important to both try to close the gap a little bit between the compensation they receive with us, relative to defense firms, and close the gap a bit between what they can reasonably expect to do in terms of hours per year with us versus what they would do with the government,” he said.

Sanford also noted in the email that the firm will be providing end-of-year bonuses in December and will proceed with scheduled annual raises on Jan. 1, 2022.

Sanford Heisler was one of the first law firms to require Covid-19 vaccinations for its attorneys and staff returning to its offices. Last week the firm said it would be delaying its return to the office until Jan. 10, 2022.

(Adds Sanford interview comments.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at