Love it or hate it, the billable hour is the primary way many attorneys bill for their time. To its credit, the billable hour is a proven and reliable method for charging for your legal services. However, as with any billing method, it has its downsides. Chief among them are the problems of accurately capturing the time spent on a file and avoiding spending excessive time on a matter, thus writing off time. Here are a couple of suggestions to help plug the dike.
1. Accurately capture all of your time. This is one of the simplest ways to capture more billables and generate more income in your practice. What timekeeping method do you use? How well do you use it? Be it a computer or cloud-based practice management system, app, spreadsheet or legal pad, if the method works, the problem is with you.
The issue I see most with clients the most is forgetting to enter time. The trick is to develop a habit of recording when you start work on a project and when you stop. Every time. Make it automatic; something you do naturally like picking up your pen to take notes. Of course, there are interruptions that you must deal with. If your system allows you to start, stop and then start time recording again, great. If not, or if it is a challenge to pull up another screen or click the mouse, you might consider an old tried and true method: the stopwatch. You can use your phone app but sometimes having a device on your desk, such as a dedicated timer you can physically interact with, helps muscle memory in creating a habit. Another important point is to review your time log at the end of every day. If you missed recording time on a matter, it is much easier to remember this close to the time.
2. Avoid writing off time. The cause is often either inaccurately estimating the time required on a project and conveying that estimate to the client or inefficiently using your time.
Inaccurately estimating the time required may be caused by a lack of experience in the area but, more often, it is caused by an overly optimistic view of the time required. Offering a lower estimate of the time required is tempting when talking with a prospective client. Resist that impulse. As the old saw goes “Under promise and over deliver.” Give yourself a buffer. If you come in under time budget you will be a hero.
Avoid inefficiently using your time by giving yourself a time estimate for the work required and sticking to it. As lawyers, we tend toward perfection. However, the perfect can be the enemy of the good. For example, what if a perfect pleading might take 4 hours to prepare but a pleading completely sufficient to get the job done would take only 2 hours? Of course, produce quality work but remember that you are in a business as well as a profession.
Capturing all of your billable time and avoiding writing off time will help you increase your income. Do it!
Have a Great Practice!