How much time do you spend on billing? If you’re like most legal professionals, you’re probably ready to cut down on some of that work by learning to bill more efficiently.
If there is one thing I absolutely, positively do not miss about being an attorney, it’s having to keep track of my time in six-minute increments.
I don’t think I’m alone in my disdain for the billable hour.
Nonetheless, for many attorneys and paralegals, there’s nothing more important than accurately tracking your time. After all, within a lot of firms, bonuses and salary raises are based on the number of hours billed yearly.
Still, keeping track of every little thing you do all year long can be daunting.
Today, of course, there are droves of apps designed to help you bill your time. We’re not here to review or endorse those products.
What we are going to do is talk about real-world ways that you can become a more efficient biller – for yourself, your clients, and your firm.
#1: Recognize that bad billing robs you and your firm
One of my biggest mistakes as a young attorney was failing to bill all the hours that I actually worked on client matters.
In fairness, I was new to the industry and I didn’t yet understand how important every moment of billing was. I also didn’t understand how small daily billing oversights could cost me and my firm in the long run.
For example, let’s say you fail to record 10 billable minutes every day that I worked.
If you do that five days a week, 50 weeks out of the year, you fail to bill over an entire week’s worth of work.
Now, let’s say you forget one billable hour on each of those days for all 50 weeks. You’d rob yourself of 250 hours of billable time.
Any of you who have ever scrambled to make hours at the end of the year know just how much you’d like to have those back when it counts.
Moreover, billing carelessness is harmful to your firm’s bottom line. If you charge $200 per hour, those “missed minutes” will cost your firm $8,400 and $50,000, respectively. When you put it like that, you begin to see why bonuses are so directly tied to billable hours.
#2: Develop shortcuts for repeated billing phrases
One of the things people dislike most about billing is the endless repetition of it all. If I had a dime for every time I wrote out phrases like “review and analyze discovery responses,” “prepare for deposition,” or “create and edit motion,” I’d be a billionaire.
Did you know, however, that you don’t have to write those phrases out every time?
Instead, you can create keyboard shortcuts that allow you to insert those types of phrases literally with the touch of a button.
If you’re worried that creating and memorizing a bunch of shortcuts will be overly time-consuming, don’t. After all, it didn’t take you long to memorize things like “cut & paste” (Ctrl + X and Ctrl + V), did it?
#3: Standardize your billing templates
If you’re in a position within your firm to set standards for billing, by all means do so. By creating and distributing billing templates, you are communicating the firm’s expectations with regard to how bills look and read.
We’ve all worked with legal professionals who give way too much detail in their billing descriptions (and with those who give too little).
Either way, those people are wasting precious time within your firm because their bills have to be heavily edited and revised. If everyone operates under the same standards, however, much of that editing time can go back to substantive matters.
#4: Think like a client
Ultimately, efficient billing has to be competent billing.
If you send an invoice to a client that makes absolutely no sense to them, they’re either not going to pay it or they’re going to eat up a bunch of your time doing a line-by-line review of your charges.
Before your bills are sent out, look at them through the lens of the client.
If you were an in-house attorney reviewing a bill from outside counsel for correctness, thoroughness, and appropriateness, what would you want to see? If you can answer that question (and bill accordingly), you’re on your way to becoming an efficient biller.
#5: When in doubt, study
Look, creating legal bills doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people.
Plus, many firms provide woefully inadequate training on this critical skill.
If that’s the case with your firm, don’t despair. There are plenty of resources available online that will help you create efficient, competent billing entries.
#6: Find a billing mentor
Volumes have been written on the importance of having a legal mentor.
Very rarely, however, do those articles mention the importance of having a mentor who can teach you the ins and outs of your firm’s billing practices.
That’s because this almost never happens.
Nonetheless, what better way to make sure that your bills meet your firm’s standards?
Finding a billing mentor shouldn’t be hard. I’m guessing you could walk up to any partner in your firm and say “I’m looking for a mentor to help me become a better biller” and they’d start salivating on the spot.
#7: Pick vendors that make cost billing easy
Finally, pay attention to how your vendors’ invoices dovetail with your firm’s billing practices.
At InfoTrack, for example, our bills include reference to your firm’s client/matter numbers. That way, you can transfer costs directly on to the appropriate client without having to manually figure out which of our charges should be allocated to which client. In fact, this ease of billing is one of the features that InfoTrack users love most.
Even small conveniences like these free up your time for other substantive (i.e., billable) matters.
Using good software tools is one of the biggest keys to efficient billing practices. Use good tools to track time and expenses, and make sure that those programs integrate together so that you’re not doing the same work multiple times.
Billing really isn’t as hard as we all think. With a little planning and guidance, anyone can become a highly efficient biller in no time.