What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
One important aspect of law firm life that is nearly impossible to avoid is the “billable hour”. Most law firms make their money by billing their clients by the hour. So, in order to be profitable to your firm, you must make enough money from your billable hours not only to cover your salary and your overhead, but also to generate revenue for the firm. So, even if your boss doesn’t require you to keep track of your billable hours, you may want to track them anyway, just to make sure he or she knows how much money you make for the firm.
Billable hours are those hours worked by a lawyer that is directly billable to a client. Time spent conducting research, preparing pleadings, or speaking with opposing counsel about a case is billable time. In contrast, time spent making copies, talking to potential clients, or preparing invoices is non-billable time. In short, any task that requires legal knowledge and training comes under the billable activity while any administrative task does not.
Calculating Billable Hours
Most firms keep track of time in tenths of an hour, or six minute increments. So, for each six minutes of time you spend working on a client’s case, the client is charged. Time is recorded as .1 (1/10th of an hour), .2 (2/10th of an hour), .3 (3/10th of an hour), etc., with 1.00 representing one hour. Using this method of time tracking and recording, if you spent twenty-six (26) minutes drafting pleadings for a client, you would record your time as .5, or 5/10th of an hour, as you spent more than 4/10th (24 minutes) of an hour, and less than 5/10th (30 minutes) of an hour working for that client. Adding recorded time then is a simple matter of counting to ten for each hour to be billed.
Keeping a Time Sheet
It’s a good idea to keep a time sheet and pen right beside the phone. This is not only an easy and convenient way to track time, but also makes it hard for you to forget to record time you spent talking to a client.
Alternatively, you can keep a document open on your computer all day and keep recording the time as you perform the work and then email the document to the concerned person at the end of the day.
No matter what method your firm uses to create and send invoices, your time will need to be recorded somewhere in a way that makes sense when someone attempts to translate it into a bill.
Keep a Track Always
You can very easily track your billable hours if you just start keeping track of all of your time at work. Each time you complete a task, write it down. You can just designate your time as billable or non-billable at the time of writing it down, so you won’t have any problems later sorting through the billable and non-billable entries.
Know Your Firm’s Policy
Know what your firm’s policy says about cutting your time. Many firms believe that the billable hours are the hours actually billed to the clients. So, if your boss thinks you’ve spent too much time on a project, he or she may cut your time from 20 hours to 10 hours, which means you get only 10 hours of credit.
It is also important to know what your firm’s policy says about in-house projects, such as case law updates and other writings for the firm that are unrelated to the client business. Usually, firms credit you for 75 per cent of your time on such projects. Even so, it’s still a good investment of your time.
In every project you undertake, you must be scrupulously honest when it comes to billable hours. Never fall into the temptation of inflating your time. It’s outrightly unethical !