For most of us, billing is a necessary evil. I have worked with enough paralegals to know that if they could get rid of one task in their day to day work life, it would be billing. However, I think that it does not have to be that bad.
When training new paralegals in billing procedures, I use the same advice that was given to me by one of my mentors. I hope it will help you better understand billing and make you more comfortable when faced with that blank timesheet.
- Keep accurate time;
- What, whom and why???????
Keep Accurate Time
It is very important to keep accurate time. We all fall into the trap, at times, to “cut” our own time.
I remember when I started, I did not want to give the partners or my immediate attorney the impression that I did not know what I was doing. Therefore, I felt it was better if I gave them the impression that I was completing my tasks faster than the paralegal down the hall. It did not matter that the paralegal down the hall had more experience and had been handling the same type of cases for much longer than I. The only thing that mattered to me was that I was faster. I was working almost ten hour days and only billing for seven. Eventually I burned out. Some days I was so tired I could barely do my seven hours.
Today, I try to get accross to the paralegals in my training seminars that it does not matter how long it takes you to get the work done. Ok….. yes, there are time when it does matter. For example, if it takes you a full day to read a two paragraph letter. Most of the time it does not matter how long it takes you to complete a task. If the partner responsbile for the file does not want to bill client the total amount of hours that it took to complete the task, it is the partner’s responsibility to adjust the time and not bill the client. Time often gets written off in law firms. Most of the time it is no one’s fault. It just happens. Additionally, there are other benefits of keeping accurate time. By keeping accurate time, the paralegal is assisting the firm in making staffing decisions. Maybe the project is better suited for a team of paralegals instead of one paralegal. By looking at the amount of time billed on a particular project, the attorney can make recommendations on staffing for the department and the firm can make budget decisions. Further, by allowing the firm to see how much time you are billing and how much work you are doing, your chances of a good bonus and a good raise may increase.
What, Whom and Why???????
What does this mean???? Sometimes billing descriptions can be so frustrating. I remember sitting in front of a blank timesheet and not having a clue as to what to say? Until that one mentor I mentioned above said those three words to me.
When you are billing you are basically telling a story. You are telling the client, the person that is paying for the bill, that you did something you think is worth “X” amount of dollars and you expect to be paid for it. But that is all that the client has to go on. Now, if you were faced with a billing entry in the amount of $500.00 which only said “review documents.” Would you pay for that? If I were going to pay that bill I would want to know a little more about what had been done. If you answer the three questions, you will be providing the client with all the information he/she needs.
What? What did you do? Whom? To whom did you write the letter, make the phone call? Prepare the memo? Why? Why did you take the time to do that? Is discovery ending? Are you trying to find out more information in order to answer discovery? Is there a trial date? Did your adversary ask you for more information?
Remember that the more time you spend on a task the more specific you need to be. Think of it in terms of money. The client wants to see content. Most of the time they will not contest the bill if they know what they are paying for.