Why You Should Remove "Non-Billable" from Your Vocabulary

Some firms assign non-billable targets to their people. It is not uncommon to see firms where professionals have to achieve, let's say 300 non-billable hours per year. If you are in that situation, keep reading.

What's wrong with non-billable targets and hours?

Some would say that the answer is in the question: the problem with non-billable targets and hours is that… they are not billable. When the mind is obsessed with billing every minute and even more, non-billable targets and hours are just a costly distraction.

I see a different problem. People might be recording 300 non-billable hours and still achieve nothing of value. Write a book that nobody will ever read. Develop clients that do not fit into the strategy of the firm. Attend social events without following up. Others might achieve a lot in just a few dozen hours of non-billable work.

It is not surprising that lawyers define non-billable targets as number of non-billable hours to be spent on no matter what. After all, that's how they think about their own work for their clients, by charging on the basis of time spent, no matter what has been achieved (or not). In both cases, they ignore the value of the outcome that has been produced.

Instead of defining non-billable targets as a number of hours to be spent on whatever non-billable stuff comes to mind, shouldn’t professionals rather clarify the substance of the outcomes they want to achieve? Instead of non-billable targets, wouldn't it be wiser and more exciting to define development objectives?

Start by asking yourself a few fundamental questions: What professional or firm do you want to be in two years? What clients do you want to have? What life do you want to lead? What would make your professional life more fun, more rewarding, more flexible, more meaningful, and more successful?

You might even go one step further and expand these questions beyond your own personal benefit: What would make this world a better place? What would be a meaningful contribution to the happiness of others?

And then: What objectives do you assign to yourself and to others under your supervision, for today, for this month, and for this year, to get you closer to achieving these goals?

Your answer will be the roadmap to your personal fulfillment, to building the future that you want for your firm, and maybe to contributing to the welfare of others. Doesn't that deserve better than the unflattering "non-billable" tag?

Don't say "non-billable" again.