Yes, it's that awful time of year--we're inundated with messages about each other's self improvement goals and desires. I guess it's human nature to pause and take stock of those habits that need to be changed. I read somewhere once that it takes only seven days of changed behavior before the change sets in as a habit. If that's true, it should be easy to find out in the next week or so who has actually managed to stick to the resolutions made in the wee hours of January 1, 2011.
I know a lot of lawyers who are disappointed in their billable hours for 2010, and who have resolved to get closer to the mark in 2011. Let's assume for argument's sake that your firm's target is for each lawyer to bill 1800 hours to client work in 2011. To meet that target and be able to take a few weeks of vacation, one needs to bill about 7.2 hours each day, five days a week. Assuming that one also does not want to work on national holidays, the daily quota would increase to about 7.5. If one is sickly, has sickly kids, or parents to care for, add another half hour of work each day for a cushion. So that means a realistic target is more like eight hours of billed work each day. No big surprise there, it's pretty simple math.
What does surprise me is that there are timekeepers in private practice who consistently significantly undershoot their target, and profess an inability to understand why they don't get the hours billed by the end of the year. Here's my advice for those folks.
Try this for the next seven work days: don't leave the office until you've actually recorded eight billed hours, and before you leave for the day, be sure you have another eight hours, at least, lined up for the next day. This might mean that you have to spend some time on business development (either internally, or externally) each day to be sure you have enough work tomorrow. And keep in mind that the eight hour rule applies whether or not time is also spent on administrative tasks, professional development, department meetings, and so on. Those things just don't count. Sad, but true. Yes, they have to be done. No, they don't pay the bills (or your salary). Keep in mind, also, that looking for work after everyone else has gone home might be a little tough, so you might want to line up more work BEFORE you start your billable work for the day. Or you could also line up many days' work before you start doing any billable work for the day.
If you find that you're work load is a bit lumpy--that is, too little work to start with, or too much--join the club. If you find you're actually working longer days than you want to in order to meet the billable hour target, consider looking for your bliss at a place where the expectation is more to your liking.
Finally, for those of you who find yourself consistently overshooting the mark, the habit of working too much might be just as hard to break for you as it is for the slackers. The key for you is to go home, sign off, shut down after the required number of hours have been billed. It might be hard, at first, to get a life going, but I suspect that if seven days in a row you leave the office at a reasonable hour and go do something else, you too might be able to meet your goal. It just takes some discipline. The world will not end if you don't work so hard. And you might find yourself to be a wee bit more efficient in your work habits if you know you must leave the office at a specific time.
Now, for the fun part, I am sure you all want to know what my resolutions are. I'm not going to tell you my personal goals for the year, though I have a few and I'm pretty excited about them. But I will share one professional resolution: I will not spray pink neon dye on any lawyers. Not even the slackers.