Legal Question in Legal Ethics in New York

I have a question about billable hours as a lawyer, and I'm not sure where else to turn. I'd like to know what to do if I've been given a monthly requirement, yet am not given enough work to meet that requirement.

I have been at this firm for about six months now. My firm requires a total of 200 billable hours per month. I don't have any problem with this workload, but I often sit at my desk without anything to do, and without any way to amass hours. I've spoken to several partners about the fact that I would like more work, and I am occasionally thrown a few bones, but never anything substantial. I still don't have a case load, as every case I work on is still assigned to one of the partners. Furthermore, I am lucky if I get one court appearance per week. Several partners, including the managing partner, have basically told me to fudge up whatever hours, wherever I can.

I definitely believe that this firm did not need a new associate. Now I am just stuck between a rock and a hard place, as I can't be without a job (yes, student loans...), but I don't want to just frivolously bill for an exorbitant amount of time that I haven't worked. I have not hit my required monthly hours since working here. I am vigorously looking for a new job, but in the meantime, I'm not sure how to deal with my billable hours situation, from either an ethical, or job stability standpoint. And advice on the situation would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Asked on 3/05/14, 9:31 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Roman Fichman Esq. Law Practice of Roman Fichman Esq.

The issue of job stability is paramount to every employee and your concerns are well justified. There are, however, a couple of things to remember and at least one thing to do:

You should keep in mind that NY is a 'work at will' state, which means that, generally speaking, you can quit at anytime and at the same time your employer can dismiss you at any time and for any reason (provided the dismissal is not discriminatory or otherwise illegal). This means that one's job is almost always subject to change. Unless one has an employment agreement that guarantees certain payment or work term, one is an employee at will. It is possible that the firm made a mistake and hired an associate when it does not have enough work. That is the firm's prerogative. If the uncertainty is too difficult to bear, then you do have the choice to look for work with a busier firm.

As far as ethics, you can call up the ethics hotline of your local bar association and inquire, though it's unclear what ethical issues there are and what the firm is doing wrong.

There is at least one thing you can do and that is seek clients yourself. Instead of sitting idle figure out ways to bring in clients to the firm. I can assure you that your value as a rain making associate will be much greater than your value just as an associate.

I assume you are a young attorney and I highly recommend that you join the young attorney section of your local bar association. You will likely find many other folks with similar concerns.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: This post has been written for educational purposes only and was not meant to be legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice or be relied upon. No intention exists to create an attorney-client relationship or any other special relationship or privilege through this post. The post may contain errors, inaccuracies and/or omissions. You should always consult an attorney admitted to practice in your jurisdiction for specific advice. This post may be deemed as Attorney Advertising.

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Answered on 3/05/14, 10:07 am

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