What you should know about working in a law firm before you start the TC!
Woohoo you've secured the training contract and you're due to start soon... but... have you ever worked in a law firm before? Do you know how a law firm office and environment differs from other office environments?
We've set out a list of key things you should familiarise yourself with before you begin your TC (make sure you check back on this page when you're in your first one or two weeks to understand what you're doing in practice!).
- Hourly rates
- CRM Systems
- PLC / LexisNexis etc
Every fee earner in a law firm will have an hourly rate. That hourly rate then determines how much a law firm will charge for its services.
The hourly rate reflects the level of experience and qualification of the lawyer.
For example, your law firm may decide that a partner will have an hourly rate of £400 per hour but as a trainee solicitor, your hourly rate might be £90 per hour.
When will you need to think about this?
You may be asked to come up with a fee quote for a piece of working during your training contract. This is when you'll need to think about what your hourly rates are and those of your team. For example, if client x asked for a quote to deal with a house purchase, you'll look at who will be doing the work (i.e. will it be a trainee, associate, senior associate etc) and then x that by how long it'll take them to do that work... that will roughly give you a starting point for determining what the fee should be.
So... when you start working as a 'fee earner'* in a law firm (whether that's as a paralegal or a trainee solicitor) you will need to start completing 'timesheets'.
Timesheets are designed to record everything you do for that day and you record your time in six minute intervals.
Example: if you have an internal team meeting for 30 minutes, you would need to record 5 units (that is 5x 6 minutes) against a 'time code' for internal meetings. (Don't worry, you'll be given all the time code details when you start so you'll know exactly where you should be recording time). This is an example of 'non-chargeable time'.
Each client you do work for will have a 'client code' or a 'matter code' for project specific work. The purpose of this is to record all the work you've done for that client or on that project. This will help your firm decide how much to charge that client.
Example 2: if you drafted a letter of advice for a client and that took you 45 minutes, you would record 8 units against that project specific time code. This is an example of 'chargeable time'.
When you're a fee earner, you'll have targets. One of these targets will be to record a certain amount of chargeable time per day. For example, some firms may require you to record at least 60 chargeable units a day (that's 6 hours of chargeable time).
*fee earner literally means someone that earns fees i.e. the work you're doing has a fee attached to it as it's work for a client who is paying you.
You'll definitely hear the phrase 'WIP' at least twice a day when you're in practice. WIP is shorthand for 'Work In Progress'.
Essentially, WIP is how much time has been recorded against a time code.
Example: you're doing some legal work for Company X. Company X are buying Company Y. So far, you, a trainee, has recorded 8 hours against Company X's time code (that is, you've done 8 hours worth of chargeable work on this matter). An associate in your team has done a further 12 hours worth of work and the partner has done 5 hours worth of work. In total, that's 25 hours worth of time recorded against that time code. That's the current work in progress on the file... get it? There is "25 hours worth of WIP".
Usually, your firm or company may refer to the WIP in its actual monetary value rather than by reference to the number of hours. Therefore, if the 'hourly rate' of a trainee was £90, an associate was £150 and the partner was £400 then the WIP would be:
8 hrs x £90 = £720
12 hrs x £150 = £1,800
5 hrs x £400 = £2,000
Total = "there is £4,520 worth of WIP on the code".
In practice, 'fixed fees' are very common. This means, rather than being charged for the WIP on the file, the lawyer and client will agree a fixed fee for the work so whether the WIP is higher or lower than that agreed fee will be irrelevant. The client will be charged the fixed fee agreed.
In the example above, if the law firm agreed a fee of £2,000 for the work, Company X would only pay £2,000 even though the WIP is £4,250. In the same way, if the fee agreed was £10,000 but the WIP was only £4,250, it does not matter, the client will still be charged £10,000. That's the pros and cons of fixed fees!
Billing is probably self-explanatory but it is literally when you bill the client. Billing the client involves sending an invoice to the client and that's all normally done by the finance team at your firm. You'll just need to tell them who you're billing, how much you're billing them, how much time to 'write off' and what the description of the bill should be.
In the above example, if the fixed fee was £2,000, you'd prepare an invoice to the client for £2,000 and ask for the remaining £2,520 to be written off (write offs always need senior lawyer approval - usually partner approval).
What are write offs?
Write offs are literally writing off the outstanding WIP once a project has been billed. If the WIP exceeds the amount billed, there will be a balance left on the client's time code. This cannot stay on the client's code for eternity, it will need to be written off so that the finances of the firm are accurate (i.e. the finance team know that such money isn't going to be paid).
The finance team of a law firm will always review the WIP on all time codes across the firm to work out how much money the firm expect to make that month/year.