Plan, Prioritize, Prepare.
After 10 years of working at a public defense organization and getting paid a bi-weekly salary, transitioning to hourly billing has presented many challenges. While tracking billables may seem easy enough if you’re like me and have never had to flex this muscle before, billing can be a lot harder than it seems.
Do I track bathroom breaks and all the times I refill my water bottle? How do I account for time spent brainstorming? How do I accurately account for times when I am working on a project but have to stop to answer a work related email or text message? How much time do I devote at the end of the day to billing and does the time I spend adding it all up also count as billable hours?
After some trial and error and (a lot of coaching from EPT Legal, LLC) I’ve put together some helpful tips to ease your billing dilemmas.
Set a timer. Simply launch the timer on your mobile device or laptop. If you’re using case management software such as MyCase.com you can also access a timer there. Note your time and then switch tasks freely. Just make sure that you track your time as you go on your phone notepad, legal pad, or an open email.
Plan out your day in advance. Schedule your day in advance. In other words, interpose your “to-do” list with your calendar and estimate in advance how much time it would take to complete each task. For example, if you know in advance that you have to work on a report, cross-examination, and still want to have time to write a blog post, your schedule could look like this:
- 9a-10a Work on report – Begin working on your report. When you are done, look at the clock. Maybe it took you slightly longer to finish and you actually stopped working on the report at 10:15a, note that on your pad or open email by writing: Report, 1.25/hr. For client “X”.
- 10:15a-10:45a – Check and respond to emails.
- 10:45a-11:45a – Work on cross examination – Again, note your start time, write your cross, and record your time. Then factor in time to check emails again before switching to your blog post.
By utilizing this method you are actually doing a few things – you are training yourself on project management and learning how long your tasks will take. If your estimates are off, consider the reasons why. Perhaps you underestimated or there were more documents to review than you anticipated or this was simply a new exercise for you. Take note of the reasons why and confidently move forward knowing that over time your estimates will improve.
Track Your Hours by Client. Record your billable hours by client, so you know which client you’ll bill for the work you’re completing. This method will also help you track how much time you’re spending on each client’s project per billing cycle.
Avoid task switching. While task-switch often stems from an attorney’s desire to be responsive to clients and colleagues too much task-switching often becomes multitasking and may interfere with progress on work and result in lost time.
If you are worried that you will not be responding in a timely fashion to your project manager, client, or colleague’s emails, just send them an email along these lines: “I am working on a report and will check my email again in an hour. If you need me before then please call me on the phone.” Then close your email (so you do not see the email notifications) and set an alarm to check emails in 45 minutes to an hour. Not only are you carving out precious, uninterrupted time to focus on your task, you are also creating an opportunity to make time management and recording a team effort.
Still wondering if you’re tracking your time properly? EPT Legal, LLC coaches many executives on a wide variety of issues including time management and career development.