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Junior lawyers are failing to hit billing targets

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It’s a similar story for trainees too

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An in-depth survey of 100 top UK law firms has revealed that junior lawyers are struggling to meet their billing targets.

The statistics — published as part of PwC’s 25th annual “Law Firms Survey” — revealed that newly qualified (NQ) lawyers across the UK’s top ten law firms have an average annual billing target of 1,596 hours.

However, the report claims the 2016 NQ billing average — which is the number of hours a lawyer is expected to clock-up on client-related work over a given year — was just 1,445, more than 150 hours short of their goal. According to the number-bods at PwC, this marks a 6% drop on last year’s billing average which stood at 1,541.

It’s a similar story for those lawyers further up the greasy pole.

The report states that solicitors — again across the UK top ten — with between one and two years post-qualification experience (PQE) have an average billing target of 1,600 hours. Falling far short of this figure, the report reveals the average lawyer in this bracket is billing just 1,471 hours, almost 130 hours less.

Some firms even set targets for trainees, and once again the stats reveal these are not being met.

PwC claims the average trainee is expected to bill around 1,405 hours a year, but is only managing to muster 1,161. This figure marks a whopping 10% drop on the 2015 result, when the average trainee was producing roughly 1,286 chargeable hours of work a year.

Billable hours to one side, the report also claims that profit margins are being squeezed across top 100 UK firms. With a decline in productivity, coupled with law firms continuing to chuck more and more cash at junior lawyer talent, the stats reveal 75% of firms reported revenue growth this year, compared to 82% in 2015.

David Snell, partner and leader of PwC’s law firms advisory group, said the market is “turning out to be more challenging than expected”. Citing increased competition from top US firms, Snell also pointed the finger at the recent referendum result. He said:

This situation is likely to be exacerbated following the EU referendum vote in favour of Brexit.