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Holiday counts towards billable hours, Orrick tells London lawyers

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US firm to credit 40 hours of bonus-eligible time to encourage lawyers to truly ‘unplug’ for a week

US law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is encouraging its lawyers to “unplug” with the introduction of a new policy that makes holiday count towards billable hours.

The new policy, which is believed to be the first of its kind, applies globally to the firm’s lawyers and staff, including those based in London.

Each member of staff is encouraged to take a week of their holiday allowance to totally switch off each year; Orrick will then offer 40 hours of bonus-eligible credit to protect this time. These 40 hours count towards lawyers’ annual billing targets and will be treated in the same way the firm treats time devoted to client work.

“Performing at the highest level is sustainable only if you also take the time to recover — that’s true of top performance across all disciplines,” read a firm memo published by Above the Law. “Yet it’s harder to unplug in today’s ‘living at work’ environment, as we jump from Zoom to Zoom and feel the yoke of our inboxes and our desire to be responsive.”

The memo continued:

“We don’t want to lose you to burnout — especially when many members of our team are working exceptionally hard. So we’re going to try something different: we’re setting a formal expectation (and creating a policy) that each member of our team — partners, counsel, associates and staff — takes one week to truly unplug each year.”

Orrick also announced a “Focused Fridays” initiative, where non-urgent meetings are discouraged on Friday afternoons so that lawyers can finish off the week’s work ahead of the weekend.

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This morning a Financial Times (£) report revealed that junior lawyers, among other professional services staff, are suffering “burnout” after working longer hours in isolation during the pandemic. This has sparked fears of an “exodus” from global law and advisory firms.

“Before the pandemic, work drinks and the ability to escape on snatches of annual leave made the relentless pace of work seem worthwhile,” one trainee solicitor at an unnamed US law firm told the newspaper. “Now, without the distractions of the perks and with more head space to consider our options, it’s increasingly obvious to some of us that we have made questionable life choices.”

Our own stories in recent weeks have laid bare the extent to which working from home has taken its toll on trainees. “I’ve really felt my mental health slipping over the last few months,” said one anonymous commenter, whilst another added: “[Working from home] I feel constantly on edge, as if I step away from my computer for anymore than a few minutes it will be assumed that I’m just bunking off and watching Netflix, rather than doing a legitimate workday activity like going for a walk or getting lunch.”

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17 Comments

Anon

Good initiative. I wonder whether other firms will respond (if anything to try and make sure that they are exculpated) following the GS slides/FT story.

(50)(0)

Old Guy

Yeah I agree. This is really good and should encourage all but the odd work pyscho to take at least a bit of time off every year to unwind. I didn’t really how important a holiday is to properly destress until I actually took a proper one in 2019 after having not taken more than a long weekend away since 2016. I just felt so much better for the full 1.5 weeks overseas and came back to work better in many ways. Working like crazy without proper breaks for years just stores serious mental health issues for late 30s and early 40s in the first instance.

(436)(1)

FlourPour

Meanwhile most UK HQ still won’t count Pro Bono as billable hours despite boasting of their “commitment to giving back” at every opportunity.

I also liked the idea of “focused Friday” as a period when everyone is expected to work hard to free up time for the weekend. When we were on the office we arranged meetings for Friday afternoons so we could pretend we were still working on a Friday.

(26)(0)

Annon

Orrick needs to focus on reviewing their applications ASAP. People who applied for last year’s TC are still waiting to find out of the outcome, over a year later.

Even this year’s vacation scheme applications have still not been reviewed. Talk about the TC applications for next year. On top of that no one answers the emails.

(13)(6)

Sorry

If you applied for last year’s TC and haven’t heard anything, you were rejected… Read between the lines.

It’s not polite and they should officially notify, buy you should be able to figure it out.

(48)(2)

annon

actually smart dunce, they emailed everyone and said that they would review last year’s tc application this year and have the assessment Centre in may becasue of covid . So your general feedback is not relevant here.

Thanks for trying though

(28)(5)

Reality Check

You are such a delight! With such a defensive attitude to anything mildly critical I’m sure Orrick will be falling head over heels to make you a trainee. Maybe they’ll skip straight to partnership with an attitude like that!

(22)(12)

Al

A number of financial institutions effectively have ‘compulsory’ holidays.

That’s to mitigate against rogue traders. The idea being that if an employee is forced to be away for at least a week, and someone else has to cover for them, any illicit activity will come to light.

I wonder if such a stance in the legal sphere might avoid some of the issues around fish files and similar?

Just having to type up holiday notes would give an overview of where a matter was truly at; and perhaps highlight any missed deadlines or if a case had just gone off the rails?

(19)(0)

FlourPour

It used to be standard to have a two week mandatory holiday for the reasons you state. I doubt it would be as effective nowadays with WFH. You could just not handover the dodgy matter and suffer the interruption of your holiday instead of the interruption of your entire career.

(4)(0)

Darren

40 hours is nowhere near as many hours as could be recorded if in the office though

(10)(1)

Bog

Is this new? Firms already do this, when you work on holiday it adds to your billable hours? 😉

(2)(6)

Truth Serum

The real reason US firms are making holidays billable is because your holiday is not purely interrupted you time.

During the holiday you will be sitting in your hotel bed or in between excursions and day outs on your laptop and answering to emails.

If you’re gonna ruin my holiday you might as well bill me for my time not enjoying my holiday and working

(17)(0)

Pardon

I’d only support such silliness if 40 hours were added on to annual targets at the same time.

(6)(6)

The Clapham Omnibus

Have I misunderstood something? Is this firm’s holiday allowance just one week per year?

(3)(3)

2am

It is meaningless

I have colleagues who have worked at Orrick. It is a sweatshop which pays crap. US hours, UK pay, or at least substantially under US.

Basically target will be 1900-2000 ish hours a year. They are saying minus 40 to that figure on holiday day so 1860-1960.
To be clear, contractual holiday is around 25 days. Most people don’t take that and end up taking 10-15. It’s the sweatiest associates at the sweatiest sweatshops who have taken 0-5 days leave in a year, I know of one or two and they have promptly resigned. It is unusual over the course of a full career. If there are people at Orrick struggling to take 5 days that is embarrassing rather than big balls we care about our people PR. Especially for a joke shop which doesn’t do anything well really (but for VC maybe where clients are cheap with little money) which doesn’t pay.
Most firms have various ways to discount your hours. Some allow you to put 100 hours of pro Bono work off your full billable, some discount for BD. Either way 40 hours over a full year is nothing and does not deserve a press release, this article or my comment.

(16)(1)

Anon

This isn’t a good policy IMO – having guidance stating you should not work for one week a year implies that it’s fine to expect people to work on their other 20-odd annual leave days.

(10)(0)

Reality

It was more than mildly critical. It was clearly a petty and spiteful comment. Dismissed as deserved.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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