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Firms outside of the giants in the Top 100 are widely believed to have a better work-life balance than their larger cousins, but is there any data to support that assertion? Thanks to this year’s UK 200: The Independents, now there is.
This year we asked firms submitting to the UK 200 report to provide information on their chargeable hours targets as well as the average number of hours achieved by associates during the 2017/18 year.
A total of 106 firms across the entire 200-strong roster provided some data: either the target or the achieved hours, or both. Some of the larger firms only provided data relating to their firm-wide hours or their UK hours, but not both. (The only Independent to have an overseas office is Wiggin, with a small outpost in Brussels housing two lawyers – for the purposes of this analysis, we have treated its firm-wide data as UK data).
The data shows clearly that not only do the bigger firms ask for longer hours from their associates, they also get them.
Across all 106 firms the average chargeable hours target on a firm-wide basis was 1,282 hours and associates achieved an average of 1,124 hours. On a UK basis the target drops slightly to 1,277 hours and associates achieved 1,117 hours.
At firms with revenue of over £200m the target rises to 1,471 hours. This is 239 hours more per year (or 4.6 per week) than is demanded at the Independents. Their average target last year was 1,232 hours.
Firms with revenue of between £101m and £200m had a firm-wide chargeable hours target of 1,427 hours; those generating between £51m and £100m aimed for 1,328 hours; and the Top 100 firms generating between £26m and £50m asked for 1,278 hours.
Associates at the Independents achieved 1,090 hours last year on average, 143 hours below the target.
In the UK, associates at the £200m+ firms achieved 1,305 hours, which was 145 hours less than their target of 1,450 hours. Associates at medium-sized firms were less effective at meeting their targets. Those in firms turning over between £26m and £50m actually achieved fewer hours, on average, than associates at the Independents, charging 1,086 hours each.
Lawyers working in the next bracket up, of firms generating £51m to £100m in revenue, were scarcely less productive, achieving 1,112 hours on average in the UK, more than 200 hours short of their targets. UK associates at firms bringing in between £101m and £200m achieved on average 1,239 hours, 187 days short of the 1,426-hour target.
Within the Independents, firms in the North East and Wales had the highest average chargeable hours target, of 1,400 hours. The North West firms had set a target of 1,382 hours on average, with London firms setting an average target of 1,315 hours. Firms in the East of England had the lowest average target, of only 1,000 hours.
Associates in North West firms beat their average chargeable hours targets last year, achieving 1,444 hours on average – 62 days more than the target. This was largely due to the 2,220 hours achieved by Express Solicitors’ associates, with the volume claims firm massively exceeding its target.
Associates in the South East Independents were the furthest off their targets, achieving an average of 944 hours against an average target of 1,172 hours. However, West Midlands associates were the least effective, each charging only 905 hours last year.
After Express, which set an 1,886-hour target for its associates last year, Vardags had the highest chargeable hours target in the Independents of 1,582 hours. IBB and Rosenblatt both set 1,400-hour targets.
ASB Law set the lowest chargeable hours target of 850 hours and was one of three firms alongside Nelsons (992 hours) and Higgs & Sons (988 hours) to have a chargeable hours target of less than 1,000 hours.
Seddons’ associates achieved the second-highest number of hours, each charging 1,400 last year – 50 more than their target.
Top 100 firms Addleshaw Goddard, Bevan Brittan, Kennedys and Sackers all had higher achieved chargeable hours than Seddons, and more of the larger firms are among those with the highest achieved hours.
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