Feb 5, 2008

Culture Shock: Suits and Billable Hours

Apparently, the new generation of young lawyers is having just as much trouble with a professional dress code as with a billable hours requirement.

On the fashion front, last week's WSJ piece Law Without Suits: New Hires Flout Tradition, notes that in today's world of "business casual," it can be "difficult to get young associates to shift gears and don traditional dress when the need arises." While the article is heavy on fashion sense, it highlights problems of both cross-generational expectations in law firms and the role of image and created persona. (See the discussion in the comments section of the WSJ Law Blog, for more fun on this issue).

For the record, while I've severely criticized role-morality and the common practice of donning false "lawyer identities," I have to side with the traditionalists here. If we really desire to love our client-neighbors and employer-neighbors in and through our law practice, sacrificing a little comfort or a little cool is the right thing to do.

On the billable hours front, young lawyers may be catching a break. In keeping with the blaring headline of the August 2007 ABA Journal, THE BILLABLE HOUR MUST DIE!, firms are experimenting with alternatives. The February issue features Taming the Billable Beast, an article that describes three ways that firms are tinkering:
  • Do away with first-year associate billing altogether;
  • Do away with billable hours completely, moving to fixed-price and flat-fee billing;
  • Drastically reduce the billable hour requirement for associates.
The results, according to the article, are positive.

I am agnostic at present regarding the billable hour's consequence to the lawyer seeking to serve/love his or her client. It seems nothing more than a tool to help evaluate value. But, like every other lawyer, I've seen abuses, and I understand its unintended consequences, especially in the large firm culture. It's a topic worth chewing on and discussing.


  1. My thoughts on the dress code issue are to keep a suit at work, and understand that the uniform comes with the territory. I the military you’re in deep trouble if you’re not in uniform when you need to be, equally true in the corporate world. I understand the lack of willingness to treat every day life like a USMC inspection, but your first impression is made in the first 90 seconds. So it all come down to want is more important to project I am cool, or I am together and I will win. Side note I personally like wearing suit because it makes me look good to be well dressed, though I do like the easy of throwing on jeans and get my boots on too.

  2. Dressing professionally in my eyes is a good thing. Dressing nice tells a lot about a persons character. It shows that they care about themselves, their job and their surroundings.

    Wearing suites should be an everyday thing in a law firm, whether it is big or small. It just shows a sign of class and dignity. I had the ability to dress in suites or skirt sets everyday, I most certainly would. Casual dress does not look good in a business. There are lots of suites that could be comfortable to wear, while still looking nice. So for me casual dress should be kicked to the curb and suites and ties need to be taken out of the closet, and be worn with pride and respect for yourself and surroundings.

  3. I believe that you should dress proffesionally when youre at work. It allows people to know that you not only repsect your job but that you also respect yourself. You have enough dignity to get out of bed and actually put effort into what you look like.

    When you walk into a company or business you look for the uniform or at least the suit. That shows the customer who is working and who isnt. I know when I go somewhere if the employee isnt dresses nice or looks dirty I choose someone else. It may sound a little snobbish or stuck up but in my opinion the first thing that runs through my head is that person doesnt know as much as the better dressed person. The man in the suit and tie looks like he knows his stuff and I feel comfortable around him.

    You dress to impress those you are serving. It makes you look more professional and trusted.

  4. I thought the article about billable hours was interesting. Quite honestly, if doing away with billable hours means I would have more time to myself as a young associate, I'd be all for it. The suggestion to, "Do away with billable hours completely, moving to fixed-price and flat-fee billing;" sounds reasonable but unrealistic.
    Scott Turow argues that the system is bad for clients and lawyers. It encourages dishonesty on behalf of the lawyers, and has also led to "law firms that specialize in disputing other firms’ bills—and in-house nudniks who demand copious details and then flyspeck them".

    But, as I'm still an undergraduate, my impact on this subject will probably have to wait a few years (or maybe a decade).

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