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Solo Attorneys Get Paid for Less Than 40% of Their Time

By Andrew Lu on June 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Solo practitioners in Oregon have it worst, while 11-20 person firms in New York had it among the best in terms of getting paid for legal hours worked. This according to a new survey on attorney billing efficiency.

The survey looked only at small to medium sized firms with less than 50 lawyers. So the big firms with endless resources were not included. Though you can probably bet those firms milk every last penny out of their clients (and their attorneys).

The survey looks at attorney billing efficiency for firms, reports The Wall Street Journal. Billing efficiency means how much time you are actually paid relative to the amount you put in. So if you work nine hours, but only get paid for six, your billing efficiency would be 66%.

Not surprisingly, solo practitioners and two-person firms were the lowest on the efficiency scale nationally. What is surprising, is just how inefficient solo and two-person firms are, billing only at a 39% rate. Solos are expected to perform a lot of non-billable work like marketing, rainmaking, and administrative duties, so this may explain the low number. Additionally, solos probably don't have enough resources to hire secretaries and assistants to perform the unbillable work. But getting paid for only half your time seems ridiculous. Perhaps this should motivate you to hire some help.

Sadly for attorneys in Oregon, all attorneys who responded to the survey only billed at a 40% efficiency rate, reports the Journal. If all attorneys in Oregon are only billing at a 40% rate, one can only imagine what a poor solo in Oregon gets.

On the opposite spectrum, lawyers in Delaware billed at 94% of hours worked. New York, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, and Mississippi also ranked high on the list, reports the Journal.

Attorney billing efficiency varies wildly from state to state and among different sized firms. The fact that lawyers in Oregon bill less than half what their peers in Delaware do is shocking. If you're a small firm attorney, you should consider hiring assistants. This may be a case where spending some money, will help you make a lot more.

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