United States: Time-Strategy Or Stamina?

Last Updated: July 14 2015
Article by Richard Stock

The December 20th, 2014 issue of The Economist featured a thoughtful article on "Why is Everyone So Busy?" Yet the article was frustrating because it did not offer solutions as such. I expect that work/life balance choices will be less frequent than ever, especially for those who choose to practice law in-house and in law firms. There is no real choice.

"Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably." University of Toronto researchers found those who are paid by the hour tend to feel more "antsy" when they are not working. While lawyers are not paid by the hour, they bill by the hour and total billings affect compensation. The hourly billing culture certainly affects how in-house counsel think of their own time value—most have spent a few years in private practice.

Lawyers are well paid compared to professionals and managers in other industries. Research conducted 50 years ago found that "when people are paid more to work, they tend to work longer hours." Aside from 3-years during the most recent recession, hourly rates and compensation for lawyers in private practice have continued to rise.

Over the last 18 months, I have spent 60% of my time working for US-based clients, their law departments and their law firms. I observed significant differences in working hours and in time management practices when compare to Canadian law departments. But I also detected important variations in work volumes and habits within the US - from Seattle to Nashville to mid-town Manhattan. A Harvard Business School survey of 1,000 professionals found that 94% worked at least 50 hours per week, and that almost half worked more than 65 hours. The Economist noted that "60% of those who use smartphones are connected to work for 13.5 or more hours per day".

The overall number of hours worked is higher in the US than in Canada. Vacation entitlement and statutory holidays are greater in Canada, although not on par with many countries in Western Europe. The Glass Door Consultancy reported that the average US employee (referring to a professional or manager) "takes only half of what is allocated, and 15% don't take any holidays at all."

We have conducted at least 15 studies on workloads and workflows for law departments over the last decade. The data is useful and shows that the length of the work week has indeed increased by 10% during this period. However, the real story emerges in the interviews with in-house counsel and their clients. Work-related stress is driven by work flows and not workloads. Most law departments have no formal protocols stating when to call on the law department, and sorting out who can and should call. Access is unrestricted and available 24/7. Responses are expected within one business day or less, regardless of the significance of the matter.

An analysis of the type of work, its complexity and the source of the requests shows that many departments will dedicate 80% of their resources to 20% of their clients. The remaining 80% of clients can become much more self-sufficient with increased training, standard form documentation and more explicit protocols for access to the law department. Productivity gains approaching 10% can be achieved for most law departments using this multi-faceted approach.

Further analyses of the work done for a law department's core clients reveal that 40% of this work is still routine and typically takes less than 5 hours per matter to complete. The average is 1.5 hours per matter. Another 30% of the work for core clients it can be completed in less than 2.5 hours per matter. Otherwise put, one is hard-pressed to find a law department with more than 30% of its resources allocated to complex - read "partner-equivalent"- work. That makes it very difficult for a corporate law department to make a significant and strategic contribution.

General Counsel cannot hold back the tide of demand for services from the law department. However, there are three things they must do to improve the productivity and value of their limited resources. First, they should have an accurate and current picture of the demand for services. The type, complexity, frequency and source of work should be detailed for each lawyer and paralegal. Second, they should introduce client training and work intake protocols designed to reduce the amount of routine work by 50% and the number of occasional users by 75% with a view to generating 10% more capacity in the law department. And third, the practice management habits of each department member should be examined with particular attention to an over-reliance on paper and to poor e-mail management habits.

Only then can a law department ensure that is both efficient and effective. The challenge is to increase its strategic impact not its stamina.

Originally published in Lexpert, March 2015

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions