Big UK firms ramp up billable targets as ‘profit leakage’ increases

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Nearly half by over 10% ⏰

The vast majority of big UK law firms have increased billable hours targets for their lawyers, new research has found, as they look to maintain profit levels in the face of rising write-offs.

A whopping 98% of UK outfits surveyed said they had increased target hours for lawyers, with nearly half (47%) doing so by over 10%.

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2023 provides a breakdown of billable hours targets across all the major outfits, with figures ranging from a high of 2,000 to a low of 800. It’s worth noting some firms choose not disclose these, while others say they don’t set them at all.

The rising targets come as almost two thirds of outfits (64%) said billing write-offs (work it accepts it’s not getting paid for) were on the rise. Nearly half (48%) revealed this had increased by 10%.

So what’s causing this “profit leakage”? Well, according to BigHand, the tech firm which carried out the research, the biggest issue is standard rate discounts (suggesting firms are facing greater pricing pressures), followed by write-offs and discounting to collect payment.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The research found that much of this leakage is down to firms being unable to “prove the work done on each matter”, with nearly a quarter of UK outfits (24%) admitting to missing time or entering time late, and 21% confessing to missing or late disbursement entry.

“As a result,” researchers said, “too many firms are leaving themselves wide open to client demands for discounting and write-offs”.

In a bid to address this, 26% of UK firms said they plan to improve billable time entry over the next two years, while 24% will improve financial data visibility to gain insight into the issues that are leading to profit leakage.

A whopping 93% of UK respondents confirmed they now employ data scientists in response to client demand for greater financial transparency.

The findings were based on 800 responses from from senior legal finance roles, CEOs and managing partners at UK and US law firms with 100 lawyers or more.

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Then why dont partners: price appropriately in the first place, do more to keep clients updated on fees, highlight what instructions are out of scope of the original estimate at the outset instructions etc……. instead of screwing its staff over with an extra 10% targets as if the ones set weren’t life consuming enough.


Rotund of Counsel

I experience of the kinds of leakage.

How do I get help?


Dolce Banana

If you have to discount your fees it means the clients aren’t worth working for. Firms should focus on high value clients only to preserve their profitability.


You'll find me at the Bar

When you lot work these crazy hours for someone else to make the money, how does it make you feel?



Like sh*t…


Lindsay Healy

It’s nuts. Why on earth do these people do it. Work for a firm that gives you a huge percentage number like 90% of the fee not 30% as in the traditional firms. Voluntary servitude.


Archibald Pomp O'City

My heart bleeds.


Disgruntled SA

The notion that increased write offs are the reason for this is a red herring.

The reason is the increased wages across the top firms. This was a necessity to retain talent in the industry.

The increased wages meant that the profit margins narrowed and Partners could no longer draw as much.

The Partners do not like this and wish to continue to earn the same and are therefore trying to justify the increased targets by blaming staff and clients for increased write off…


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