Community Perspectives: In-house counsel who work less than 40 hours per week - how does that break down with your schedule?

In-house legal professionals talk about their workload and schedule during a typical week.

Community Perspectives: In-house counsel who work less than 40 hours per week - how does that break down with your schedule?


(Author) Senior Counsel

In-house lawyers who say they work less than 40 hrs/week, what do you mean? Does that mean you’re in the office/in front of your laptop 45 hours a week, but doing stuff not required for your job 30% of the time (e.g., professional development)? Or are you really just logging in from 10-4 every day?

General Counsel Responses:

  • For me, it is what you describe. I am at my computer or office about 40-45 hours, but some of that includes reading articles, CLE conferences, networking, 1-on-1s that are as much talking about our weekends as they are talking about work---all the stuff that doesn't feel like work to me and wouldn't have counted at a firm.

  • When I have work to do, I do it. When I don’t, I loaf around the house and do whatever (work remotely). I keep Slack on my phone so that I can make sure I’m staying on top of any messages that come in during work hours.

Counsel Responses:

  • Now that I am not working remotely, I do the same amount of work but have to be in the office. There is so much wasted time in mornings and evenings on driving, cooking, laundry, chores, etc.

  • For me, it means I work pretty normal hours most days but there are things that cut into work time. For example, 30 minutes each day goes to picking up my kids from school. Sometimes we go somewhere after school that turns that 30 minutes into an hour. Sometimes I have a dentist or doctor’s appointment that cuts into work time.

  • I’m available from 8am to 11pm almost every day, but things don’t come in consistently. I can’t count the times I’ve been pulled out of showers, dinner, shows, other stuff with family to work during off hours, but I’m also not busy in blocks during the day all the time. Though now I’m pretty booked from 9-6, I can steal 30 mins here or there to not do much. There are also times where I used to be able to disappear for a day or so and no one would even notice, but those days are over now, I think. I haven’t taken a vacation in years because any down time is completely unpredictable. When you’re remote and logging hours, it also becomes apparent how inefficient most workers are. 40 hours/ week is more like 32 with lunch and expected breaks, but your average employee is productive only for about 2-4 hours/day. With my extended hours and being “always on” and rather productive, I manage to “bill” about 90-130 hours in a fairly busy month, and then I estimate that I do another 60-80 hours for my second job for which I don’t track hours.

  • It’s super toxic for people to be keeping tabs on whether someone is idle. I left law firm life where that was the norm and wouldn’t tolerate that in-house. I’d be looking for a new job if my boss did that.

  • I set myself to permanently “away” on Slack so people don’t use it to ask me nonsense or send documents and are pushed to email instead (which is a permanent record and I can flag emails). The upside is less lazy questions, too.

  • I have a colleague who seems to work about 15 hours a week. He’s usually driving his kids places, getting lunch, getting the car repaired, or going to the doctor. Meanwhile, the rest of us are working 50+ hour weeks. Last week he said he might start taking more calls from his cell because it’s less distracting than being on teams.

  • I'm typically available between 9-4. If I don't have any scheduled meetings and if I'm caught up on work, or am just procrastinating, I do other things with my time. I might watch tv, walk the dog, go sit in a coffeehouse, clean up around the house, browse LinkedIn or job boards. Or I may do some professional development (CLE, on-demand, virtual conferences, videos, work-related volunteer work).

  • After reading this thread, I don’t feel too bad anymore. My day usually starts between 8:15 to 9 am and ends around 4 to 5 pm. If picking up my kid takes longer than usual, I force myself to sit in front of my laptop until 6 pm. Also, like others, I tried to fill my down time with CLEs, browse the web, other professional development things, etc. I take short lunch throughout the week (away from my laptop) and I have weekly late night calls with Asia (1-3x a week), so that made me feel like I’ve balanced everything out.

  • Interesting info here. I typically log on at 7 AM, then go to the gym for an hour at 9, then work pretty much straight through the afternoon, taking about 15 minutes for lunch and 30 minutes for a walk at some free time slot in the afternoon. Typically, I’m wrapped up by 4 PM. That said, my company is very acquisitive and I’m the M&A lawyer (and was trained as one in firm life), so there are weeks where the hours are much much longer (think 60-70 billable hours per week). Still nice by firm standards, but not when you get used to the above!

  • Usually I get out of bed at 8:45, start work at 9, take an hour lunch and mid-afternoon dog walk for about 45 minutes, and then I try to end the day by 630 to have dinner. I’m mostly chilling in the evening; rarely I’m catching up on backed up work for an hour or 2 after dinner.

  • For me (100% remote), when things are slow, I’ll get stuff done in the morning that may have come in the evening before, and then hang with the family the rest of the day, work on house projects, go shopping, etc. During 9-5 hours I always bring my laptop with me (or stay close to the house) just in case. That said, I don’t mind working long hours at the end of the quarter when things get chaotic.

Attorney and Associate Responses:

  • If I don’t have work to do, I’ll read up on weak areas for myself or if I’m not in the mood for that I’ll take longer lunches, browse the internet, etc. I try to stay in front of my laptop (other than for lunch) though, for calls and in case something pops up quickly.

  • I work from home. I also do CLEs and such when I feel like it. But a lot of the time I am doing chores around the house and checking the laptop every half hour to see if any requests came in.

  • I do the above, minus the CLE part.

  • I work from home at a fully remote company. So when I have nothing to do for work I mindlessly scroll the internet, watch tv, take my dog for walks, go sit at a coffee shop with my work laptop and read a book, or go to the gym. Sometimes I go play golf. I work in a non-CLE state so that doesn’t fill time.

  • While the above is nice, it’s starting to get boring for me. Hard to tell if it’s because I came from a firm where I was always on and I’m still adjusting, or if I’m just bored with this role and the work. I’ve been looking on and off, and actually have an offer on the table now but compensation is below expectations (and I expect there to be a lot more work at newCo). I’m not going back to a firm unless someone offers me top dollar. I’ve yet to find the right balance at my current role, but if I stay, this winter will be a good test to see if I like full-time working from home.

  • I crave boredom and less work in my in-house role. Your position sounds ideal to me.

  • I work in the office mostly (my choice, I live close by and I enjoy it most days) but the work comes in fits and starts because that’s how the business is. Some weeks I’m at my desk or my computer constantly, but other weeks I’m more on standby. I’ll go home and let the dogs out, do CLEs, read a book, go for a walk to get a coffee down the block, whatever. As long as I’m reachable when someone has a question or work materializes, nobody minds.

  • I work 10-4 some days and other days are 8-6. It depends, but I’m definitely not sitting in front of my computer if there is no work to be done. I can’t access my cases on my phone, but we use Teams, which is on my phone. If they need me, they’ll reach out and I will be available unless it’s a planned PTO or other emergency.

  • My work flow varies over time, but when I’m slow, my approach: when going into the office, I usually show up between 8:00-9:00am and stay at the office until sometime between 3:00-4:30pm, then head home and respond to calls and emails as needed; when working from home, I generally get to my desk at the same time and stay there until closer to 5:00pm, but with a fair number of breaks to do other things like yard work or something similar. Of course, there are also stretches when I work through or after dinner and on weekends, so I don’t really feel any guilt about the light times.

  • I’m pretty much 8:45-5 everyday. There are days I work straight through and other days I take an hour for lunch, workout, check my fantasy football lineup, do professional development or research on new regulations. I’m at my computer 40 hours a week, but I probably work 30ish hours a week.

  • I have periods where I'm very busy (not by law firm standards 🤣 - think working 60ish hours a week), and periods where I am very slow (10-20 hours a week). My thinking is that I do the work I have and manage expectations on timing - if you let the business folks rule your life, everything will be an emergency and have to be done asap, and your life will become what it was in BigLaw. I also often play around with when I do the work I need to, I will often do my work in blocks at random times throughout the day to make up for not doing anything earlier on, and sometimes work on the weekends to make up for slacking during the week (or if I'm exceptionally busy). Generally, the key is that once you are no longer under the thumb of the billable hour, what matters isn't how many hours you put in, but whether you enable the business to function and the people above you don't get any complaints from the business side.

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