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Attorneys Become Brainwashed Zombies Billing as Many Hours as Possible
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Summary: After putting in time with major law firms, many attorneys end up with brainwashed ideas that make them like zombies working long hours.

Attorneys are known for working exhausting hours with jokes surrounding them of how attorneys have affairs with their work because they are never at home or live out of their cars and offices because they spend so little time at their actual home. Are you struggling to understand why anyone would work so much and give up so much of themselves for their job? Harrison Barnes attempts to make this more understandable in Why Do Attorneys in Large Law Firms Work So Hard and Bill So Many Hours?


Large law firms have clients that will pay top dollar to have their work done quickly. These clients are not concerned about the bills. With large companies come more legal needs so law firms are always able to find work that needs to be done for those clients. The law firm’s attorneys are able to delve into every detail of a transaction and litigation to produce the best results for the clients. Attorneys are expected and often required to work long hours because a lot of legal work is time sensitive.

Attorneys continue working these long hours because they believe they need to. Barnes divides the belief system into two categories: brainwashing phase and zombie phase. The phases span many years as an associate that moves into a partner after ten years or so.

The brainwashing phase is where the set of beliefs get introduced to the attorney. The attorney learns after anywhere from three to twelve years that they are worthless unless they are sitting at an office working until 10 each night. They gain their worth from doing work-related activities that can be turned into “billable hours.” Not all attorneys will make it through this phase of brainwashing and leave for a smaller law firm or the industry altogether.

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Some of the ideas that attorneys pick up during the brainwashing phase is that if they work hard and produce great work, they will become a partner. They create an assumption that they are the hardest working associate and there is no one else like them so they will inevitably become a partner soon since they are so valuable. This is partially true in that young attorneys really only have hours and energy to give to a law firm. Unfortunately, there are so many young attorneys vying for the same thing that there isn’t the ability for everyone to be a partner.

Attorneys also don’t want to get caught making a mistake so they check and double-check themselves, putting in more time to make sure they do things right the first time. An attorney billing high amounts of hours will often get their errors overlooked because the law firm’s number one priority is billing hours. This belief also appears as the idea that the harder they work, the more likely they are to keep their job.

The zombie phase continues once an attorney has been successfully brainwashed. This is generally near the end of their time as an associate and are becoming a partner. Most often, once an attorney becomes a zombie billing machine, they will remain one until they run out of work.

Zombies are so committed to their work that they can bill time with their spouses as “business development time” if their spouse has a relative who is the General Counsel of a large company. They also answer every phone call because they can be put down as billable time. They only attend social events when someone important will be present so that there is potential to land new clients. Ultimately, everything they do is to gain more clients and bill more hours.

Do you think attorneys get sucked into a mindset where billing hours is the most important thing? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about billable hours at law firms, read these articles:


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