Solving the Billable Hour Monster


Billing has always been the thorn on the side of most paralegals.  It doesn’t have to be as painful as some make it out to be, but it is annoying.  One of the big pluses, for me, about working in-house, is that I do not have to bill my time anymore.

Some of you have asked me to show you how I used to keep track of my time.  I’ve always been really bad at remembering things at the end of the day and I quickly figured out that I needed to keep track of what I was working on as I was working on it.  So I developed my own system.

The chart below is a chart I kept on my desk throughout the day.  Sometimes I would even take it with me into meetings so I could write notes to remind me what topics were discussed during the meeting.

If the law firm where you work does not give you a way to track your time manually and instead requests that you enter your time in whatever computer system is used to track time, I still suggest that you try to use a method similar to the one below in order to fully capture your day or at least come as close as possible to fully capturing your day.  There are always going to be a few minutes and sometimes hours missing.  Generally, those missing minutes or hours can be captured in what is usually known as non-billable number.  Your practice area manager or human resources should give you the non-billable number when you start your employment.

DATE: _________________

TIME CASE NAME CASE NUMBER DESCRIPTION
.2 Smith v. Smith 2010-999999 Prepare correspondence to adversary regarding outstanding answers to interrogatories.
1.3 Wilson v. Roger 2008-999999 Review medical records received from Hospital X to assist with preparation of answers to interrogatories.

Throughout the day I would keep little post notes with the time I started a particular project and the time I ended the project and then at the end of my day I would input the amount of time spent on each task in the first column.  The reason for the post-it notes was because inevitably I would have to stop what I was working on and do something else only to have to go back to the original task.  It was easier for me to keep all the start and stop times on a post-it note with the case number on it and then at the end of the day add everything up and just enter the time I actually worked on a matter.  There were days when my chart would look like a Christmas tree with post-it notes as ornaments.  You’d be surprised what a couple of .2’s can do for your billable hours.

I got into the habit, very early in my career, of tracking my time in this manner. I was never very good at relying on my memory at the end of the week or, worse, at the end of the month.  It just never worked out for me.

I hope this was of some help.  Please post a comment and let me know.

Billing for the Paralegal


Some of you have written to me asking for ideas on how to bill and how to word your billing entries.  I will say this; every attorney and/or law firm is different.  So please keep in mind that the billing descriptions on this blog may not be acceptable billing descriptions at your particular law firm.  I suggest that you check with your paralegal manager, the attorney or the partner on the file to make sure the billing entry is in accordance with the retainer the client signed and with your firm’s policy. With that in mind, let us begin.

As I stated in a previous post, a billing entry is like a story.  I am sure you remember your professors saying that one of the most of important things when writing anything is to keep in mind who your audience is.  If you keep this in the back of your mind as you write your billing entry you will be able to tailor it to the person who will be reading it.  The other thing that I keep “filed away” in the back of my mind is that my billing entry is probably the first time the client is going to see how much work is actually involved in getting the case “worked up.”

Clients are not always aware of how many steps are involved in getting their cases settled or even getting their cases to go to court.   So, again, as I mentioned in an earlier post remember to make your billing entry as descriptive as you can by answering the following questions:  who, what and why.

Most clients are ok with paying your fees as long as they see that there is a reason for you to charge them as much as you’re charging.

SAMPLE BILLING ENTRIES

A meeting with an attorney regarding an expert my billing entry would be something like this:

  • Conference with attorney’s name regarding expert’s name, type of expertise to assist with deposition preparation/response to discovery.

A meeting is almost always stated as a conference.  It just sounds better, in my opinion.  But again, that may not be the case at your law firm.

When reviewing medical records and preparing the package to be sent to our expert.

  • Review and analyze medical records to assist in preparation of expert witness. If this was a particularly voluminous medical file, I sometimes list the medical records individually.

As a personal injury paralegal on the defense side you will have to request records from the physicians.  I use these to compare to the ones received with the adversary’s responses to discovery or answers to interrogatories.  I always request medical records at the same time I review plaintiffs’ discovery responses.  Therefore, my billing entry would look something like this:

  • Review and analyze plaintiff’s answers to interrogatories/document production in preparation for supplemental discovery demands.

Telephone conversations should also always be very specific.  Always be specific about whom you spoke with and why you had the conversation.

  • Telephone conversation with name of the party regarding issue to assist with why you had the conversation.

Correspondence:

  • Prepare correspondence to party you’re writing to regarding why you’re writing.
  • Correspondence to plaintiff’s attorney regarding outstanding answers to discovery.
  • Correspondence to medical expert, name of the expert and specialty regarding additional information received from where you obtained the information to assist with preparation of expert report.

Basically, I look at my billing entries as a chronology of what I am doing on each file.  I have at times looked at my billing entries to remind me if I completed a task on a file.

My last bit of advice to all new paralegals is to not be afraid of billing for all the work you do on a file because the bill may be “cut.”  Billing adjustments happen in law firms and it is not a reflection on you or your work.

I hope this helps.  If I can be of further help please write me a comment and we can work it out together.

Thank you for all your comments and I look forward to hearing from you all.

The Paralegal

Ana Pierro

Paralegal Billing


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. 

  1. Keep accurate time;
  2. 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.