The most important lesson for any aspiring attorney in law school should be learned in their constitutional law class or the thousands of pages of assigned case reading. However, it’s more often one single, non-law concept that will rule the life of any young attorney who goes to work for a firm after they pass their bar exam: Billable hours.
With studies showing that attorneys work three hours for every two they bill, lawyers can easily wind up working 12 to 16 hour days to meet their quotas—sacrificing any semblance of a normal family or social life.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Join us as we explore lawyer billable hours and how they can work to maximize them.
Understanding Billable Hours and Why They Matter
Billable hours, or the amount of work that attorneys can charge to clients, impose an intimidatingly high bar of success on the legal industry. The latest numbers from the National Law Review report that, on average, first-year associates are expected to bill anywhere from 1,892 to 1,930 hours.
In comparison, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management says that 2,087 hours per year is the average standard for a non-billing, full-time worker. Of course, those hours include chatting with coworkers when they swing by your office, mid-afternoon social media breaks, and tons of other personal and administration-related stuff that lawyers cannot bill for.
The average attorney bills as much as 2,300 hours annually. With the average attorney’s rate sitting at $225 an hour in the United States, a lawyer can easily bill for a couple hundred thousand dollars of case work per year—perhaps as much as half a million if they work hard.
It also means, however, that an attorney without an efficient way to track their time can easily lose out on tens of thousands of dollars in earnings. The particularly tough part is that these earnings are for work that the attorney or their staff has done.
Billable hours provide a reliable metric for long-term success. They show which attorneys are diligent about working on cases and making sure that they’re compensated for their services.
Technological Tools for Lawyers to Maximize Billable Hours
The good news is that a variety of software and tools exist to help attorneys track their billable hours. Here is a cross-section of these solutions.
Already, lawyers are struggling to bill for their time.
The American Bar Association noted in its May/June 2019 issue that average lawyer was only used 30 percent of the time they were available. In addition, they only invoiced 81 percent of billable hours worked, with collection rates at 85 percent. “Following those rates,” the ABA noted, “American lawyers derive revenue from not quite 21 percent of their working time.”
By improving the process of keeping track of their time, attorneys can improve productivity—aka, billable hours.
Attorneys and their staff need not keep cumbersome and inefficient hand logs of hours. Modestly-priced software exists that can look at what an attorney does during the course of their workday, automatically logging time to the appropriate client file.
This software offers many benefits for attorneys; including transparency for clients, easy billing, and the ability to flip between multiple clients. With the seemingly non-stop barrage of phone calls from clients that any attorney knows all too well, that last benefit might be particularly important. Attorneys need every tool they can to flip between different cases at a moment’s notice without losing billable time.
In addition, there are seemingly countless websites that exist these days to help lawyers track billable hours. Many of them perform this service free of charge, such as:
It’s all a matter of attorneys determining which tools and functionality that they need from these free tools or if a paid solution might be better. Thankfully, if attorneys opt to go in the direction of paid services, many options are still available.
For instance, Hubstaff’s free plan offers only basic time tracking, which may or may not be enough depending on who’s using it. On the other hand, you can access additional features like expense tracking and invoicing by choosing a paid plan.
A Rochester-based attorney ticked through all the options related to cloud-based time tracking tools in 2018 for the American Bar Association Journal.
The attorney noted “the time-tracking features built into law practice management software like Rocket Matter, MyCase or Clio” as well as legal billing software like Timesolv Legal, Time59, and Bill4Time.
She also noted mobile applications such as On-Core Time Master, which works for iPhone OS 9 or later and costs $9.99. (For Android users, she added, Time Miner is $9.99 per month.) She also discussed Tikit Carpe Diem, available for $25 per timekeeper per month, and iTimekeep, which has prices ranging from $20 to $40 a month per user.
When the public thinks of lawyers, perhaps they think of procedurals like Law & Order where criminals are caught, prosecuted, and convicted in the space of 42 minutes. Really, though, the legal profession is lots of paperwork—ranging from contracts to depositions to innumerable filings.
One great hack for saving time? Template automation that makes it easy to create templates for any frequently-used legal documents, which may include intake forms, retainer agreements, and more.
Some great template automation options for attorneys include:
- Woodpecker, which uses artificial intelligence to automate legal documents
- Smokeball, which integrates with Microsoft Word and populates client information that attorneys enter into the service’s software
Meeting Room Management
Here’s a scary stat for the attorney who has to set up a meeting: For every hour of meeting time, another four hours are needed to plan it.
While a lawyer might excel at taking a deposition or citing relevant case law, they might not know the first thing about booking conference rooms. Thus, it can make more sense to rely on a meeting room management solution with a focus on helping attorneys handle these and any number of other administrative tasks.
To maximize lawyer billable hours, firms should seek out a meeting management solution that allows users to search all available meeting rooms, desks, and more through all of a firm’s locations.
AskCody specifically integrates with Outlook and Microsoft 365 so that attorneys or their staff don’t have to waste precious time logging into different systems to perform what should be quick searches. It just takes a few short clicks within Outlook to book rooms, furniture, and other resources.
It’s not just available meeting rooms that can be hard to track down. Many firms also share their audio-visual equipment among different departments, meaning that staff might have to find wall projectors or flat-screen televisions quickly before conferencing with clients.
A meeting management platform with built-in equipment tracking and booking can address these issues handily—both helping lawyers search for meeting rooms with the technology they need and showing who’s checked out shareable audio-visual equipment and for how long.
Visiting Client Management
Attorneys and their staff can easily get bogged down preparing for the arrival of a client, from sorting out Wi-Fi passwords to ensuring the client has arrived. Aside from the possibility of looking disorganized and under-prepared, who has time for that? Instead, firms should invest in a visitor management system to streamline check-in info, NDA signing, name tags, and much more.
Even More Tactics for Maximizing Lawyer Billable Hours
The average attorney is always thinking about billable hours and is likely missing out on countless dollars by not having the right tools in place to track them while making the most of their limited time.
While all of these tools will definitely help, we encourage you to learn even more about the economics of law firms and the tools, tactics, and strategies you can use to help position your for growth by reading Law Firm Economics: How Upgrading Your Meeting Management Software Can Improve Your Bottom Line.
Not sure you’re ready to splurge on new workplace tech just yet? You might be after reading The Hidden Link Between Employee Retention and New Technology.