Attorneys, Admins See Non-Billable Burden Differently, Study Says

Originally published on Law360 (August 26, 2021, 3:52 PM EDT)

Law firm administrators don’t appear to have an accurate read on the non-billable workload that is standing in the way of attorneys achieving their goals, according to a new survey.

Productivity automation company Zero released the results of its State of Automation in Legal report on Thursday and said 67% of timekeepers surveyed, which include lawyers and support staff, say they are working too many hours.

Meanwhile, only 26% of administrators surveyed, including law firm IT and finance staff, said they think those timekeepers are working too many hours.

“It almost looks like those two groups live in different realities, different worlds,” Zero CEO and co-founder Alex Babin told Law360 Pulse.

Chris Ford, Zero’s chief marketing officer, told Law360 Pulse that the results show that the workload for legal professionals is overwhelming because of a lack of tools to complete non-billable administrative tasks.

“It’s an extraordinary difference of perception between the law firm leadership and the people doing the actual work,” Ford said.

More than 64% of the timekeepers surveyed strongly agreed that administrative tasks are an impediment to achieving business goals. Only 30% of administrators agreed.

Similarly, 64% of timekeepers said their firms didn’t provide them with the right automation tools and technology to reduce non-billable work, and only 20% of administrators agreed.

Ford said that the survey isn’t meant to promote Zero’s automation tools but rather to create awareness about the low-level tasks that timekeepers are forced to deal with.

“The results happened to benefit us and create a proper need, but we wanted to really shine a light on all the different activities, whether they’re billable or non-billable, that can be and should be automated,” Ford said.

Zero conducted the survey in the past two months through social media, its direct industry contracts and some outreach through bar associations. Respondents were from both small and large firms, most of them from the U.S.

The 114 respondents were about evenly divided between timekeepers and administrators. About 85% of timekeepers were lawyers, which were equally divided between partners and associates.

Ford said that he initially wanted at least 500 respondents but said that there was a clear consistency in answers once more than 20 respondents participated in the survey.

“If we had 10,000 respondents, we wouldn’t see dramatically different results,” Ford said.

Babin said that instead of just buying tools for timekeepers, administrators should be having a constant conversation with people in the trenches to see what they actually need help with.

About 60% of timekeepers surveyed identified email management and time entry as tasks that they wish they had tools for.

“We want to show the administrators that there is a gap and a major opportunity with their timekeepers to improve their quality of life, both professionally and personally,” Ford said.

–Editing by Alyssa Miller.


  • Chris Ford is ZERO's Chief Marketing Officer. With years of marketing leadership experience in the legal industry around the world, he leads all marketing efforts for ZERO.