October 29, 2014
As an attorney, you’ve likely realized by now how valuable your time is: you used to technically pay your law school a handsome sum to spend three to four hours of your time writing a legal brief, when, as a practicing attorney, you now charge upwards of $1,000 for the same time period of work.
At the same time, you’ve also probably noticed how your free time has vaporized as you’ve gotten deeper into the practice of law.
These two realities beg the question: how can you use your time as efficiently as possible such that you spend as much of it as possible on billable, rather than non-billable tasks?
First, let’s look at what consumes your time for which you can’t bill your clients (I wrote a post a few years ago on what attorneys may bill their clients for).
- First and foremost, you can’t bill your clients for putting your bills together for your clients.
- Next, any administrative tasks, such as client file retrieval and organization, technology startup/setup, and transportation time between your home and office or multiple offices/workspaces.
- Finally, you may not bill your clients for any task that is not specific to that client, even if it is tangentially related to that client’s case. For example, you may not bill any particular client for having to research new courtroom procedures if you need to familiarize yourself with the procedures anyhow as a necessary part of your general practice (however, if the client’s case requires unusual, specialized information, that’s different).
You’ll notice that all of these tasks are not something that can simply be cut out of your schedule; they need to be done, regardless of the fact that you aren’t able to bill clients for the time you spend on them.
So instead of not spending any time on them, we have to figure out how to minimize the amount of time that we spend on them while still ensuring that these things get done correctly.
First, the bills: one of the easiest ways to cut down on the amount of time that you spend on this is to record time as you bill it. That may be difficult to do if you’re traveling or not in the office (e.g. in court), but you can still keep some kind of record on you during these times (whether it be a pad of paper or on your tablet or phone), and then add it onto your ongoing client invoice when you return to the office.
Some attorneys also set aside a particular part of the day during which all of that day’s billable hours are accounted for and collected onto client invoices. That way, it’s a part of the daily schedule and the billable hours are fresh in your mind when you enter them (it’s still probably a good idea to track your hours as you accrue them throughout the day to ensure accuracy, however).
The same principle of “keeping on top of it” also applies to administrative tasks such as file retrieval and organization: don’t let your client files become a complete disaster in terms of organization. You should keep your files organized so that you can find them quickly and easily, and you should keep everything in them organized for the same reason. Also, you should immediately place any client documents into its respective file as soon as you’re through using them?
However, to save even more time, I would recommend (as I had in a post earlier this year) scanning your entire client file into an electronic form, and maintaining complete client files electronically. Yes, this does take extra time since you have to scan any papers that you receive, but, as mentioned in that earlier post, courts are increasingly transitioning into paperless environments – meaning that you’ll have to have your documents in electronic form one way or another.
If it’s a part of your regular schedule, it’ll get done more quickly since you’ll become more efficient at it over time. Your increased use of technology will mean less time transitioning into its use, and you may even be able to get other things done while your documents are scanning.
And speaking of doing two things at once, if unbilled transportation time really bothers you, you can always carpool or take public transportation, and try to get some work done during the ride. Even if it’s just reading through and responding to client emails, that saves time – time that adds up in the long run.
Finally, in regards to general, non-client-specific matters, the same adages apply: stay organized, leverage legal software and technology, keep on top of it, and try to do two things at once.
For example, if you need to research a new law or attend a CLE, try to do it, say, at the same time that you’re eating lunch at your desk. A wide variety of CLEs are available as webcasts, and virtually every update to every law or rule is available online. You should have no trouble taking care of these things over your lunch break.
Even if you want to get out of the office during your lunch, you can still get quite a few things done on your tablet in case you wanted to eat at a restaurant or even just sit outside.
It may seem as though you’re cutting out personal time during your lunch break, but, as I’ve mentioned above, these things still need to get done. Being more efficient about how and when you do them ensures that you aren’t working late into the evening or too early in the morning – which will open up more personal time for yourself in the long run.
And more personal time is just as valuable (if not more so) than billable hours.