Sanford Heisler Sharp Reduces Billable Hour Requirement, Citing Pandemic Lessons

Posted September 8th, 2021.

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“People can be, and often are, a lot more efficient than they were before [the pandemic],” said firm chairman and co-founder David Sanford.

By Dylan Jackson

What You Need to Know

  • Plaintiffs firm Sanford Heisler Sharp is reducing its minimum billable hour requirement.
  • Firm chairman David Sanford said the change recognizes the efficiency of remote work and the need for better work-life balance.
  • The change comes as the industry battles burnout.

New York-based Sanford Heisler Sharp is reducing its annual billable hour minimum from 2,160 hours to 1,920 hours, or 20 hours fewer per month, as the firm looks to recognize the increased efficiency that has come from remote work as well as the importance of a better work-life balance.

David Sanford, chairman and co-founder of the plaintiffs firm known for representing plaintiffs suing celebrities, Big Law firms and major companies such as Facebook, said the shift to working from home has increased efficiency among the firm’s attorneys, so much so that lawyers at the firm billed nearly 2,400 hours on average last year.

“The pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons. One of the lessons is that people can be, and often are, a lot more efficient than they were before. We have noticed that and we have appreciated it,” Sanford said. “And so we wanted to recognize everyone’s excellence. The firm has done exceptionally well in the course of the last two years.”

The retroactive change is also a nod to the firm’s efforts to give its attorneys a better work-life balance. The 1,920 figure includes what would be traditionally known as nonbillable time, such as business development and administrative work.

“We thought it would be important to send a signal to everyone that the firm is committed to more of a work-life balance and want to commit to that in the form of a billable hour reduction,” Sanford said. 

Sanford noted that the changes allow the firm to better compete with its chief talent rivals in Big Law and the government. More often than not, the firm finds its departing attorneys leaving to go into the government, most recently exemplified by the forthcoming departure of partner Saba Bireda, who is joining the U.S. Department of Justice.

This year, the firm has doled out its annual raise as well as a special $10,000 raise across the board, which went into effect Sept. 1, Sanford said.

“We wanted to both decrease the gap in compensation between our firm and the defense side and also decrease the gap between us and the government, as it relates to hours worked,” he said. 

The firm, like many others, has committed to a hybrid schedule going forward. The return, which was originally planned for early September and was pushed back to January, is based on seniority. Junior attorneys will be expected to be in the office at least four days a week, while more senior attorneys are only required to come into the office two to three days per week.

The changes come as the industry reckons with fears of burnout amid a frantic work year. Big Law firms have looked to offset the workload by offering salary raises and multiple rounds of bonuses, although some midlevel associates have criticized the moves as a “superficial solution.”

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