Practical Tips to Maximize Billing

Caroline Shaffer Siex
Make sure you start with good habits and keep them.

Make sure you start with good habits and keep them.

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Working in defense firms, we are continually balancing the quality of work and billable hours. Recently, I had billing setbacks when our courthouses were nearly closed due to COVID-19 emergency orders. Eventually, we eased up on restrictions, and work was picking back up. However, I found myself feeling like I did during those first few months of switching from plaintiff work to a defense firm when I was still on the billing learning curve. Due to my recent setbacks, I’m providing tips to new attorneys for maximizing their billing. 

Start with Good Billing Habits

When I first went to defense work, I had billing examples provided to me. I compared my bills to my two “golden examples” and adjusted. It was time-consuming at first, but I found myself quickly adapting. If you feel lost, ask for help and examples. They won’t fault you for wanting to learn.

Make It a Habit to Bill Contemporaneously

Never think you can go back and figure out what you did. Either jot it down on a notepad or enter it into your billing software right away. There are chaotic days in the office where you have everyone coming by to ask something, clients calling, etc. You still have to take the time to memorialize everything as you go, or you will miss out on including billable tasks.

Add Detail to Your Billing Entries

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a rush and just wrote something vague that I thought would work while I was writing the entry. For example, I’m analyzing a response to a defendant’s motion, but I represent four different defendants, and my entry did not state which one. It’s important to proof your billing entries (yes, proof). You will save more time and heartache later if you proofread these entries. Even on those chaotic days, make time before you leave.

Do Not Procrastinate

I’m a recovering procrastinator who still falls off the wagon. Not procrastinating means you will be available to pick up extra projects that are offered by a partner or fellow associate who is swamped. You’ll want additional projects in the pipeline to prevent a billable lull. No matter how busy you usually are, there will be at least one slow week here or there, and that slow week makes your overall billing time take a hit. Later that month, it’s a scramble to try to get those minimum hours. When I started to complete assignments ahead of time, I was able to pick up extra projects. The additional projects saved me from losing hours of billable time that I would have to pass up if I was doing everything last minute.

Break Down Major Projects into Multiple Parts for Detailed Billing

For example, I was planning to file a motion for summary judgment in a case. My first step after getting the client’s approval was gathering authority similar to my case and its specific issues. While reviewing the authority, I developed an outline of what needed to be proven for my motion. Second, I prepared a line for questions for depositions with that outline in hand. After the deposition transcripts came back, I began drafting deposition indexes. These indexes set up my roadmap for the undisputed statement of facts in my motion. Then finally, I moved onto the last step of drafting the motion with most of the planning work completed. Because I planned out the motion, these action items, which spanned over two months, turned what could have been a substantially large chunk of time for “drafting a motion for summary judgment,” into various detailed entries. Plus, it made my motion much easier to tackle.

In summary, to maximize your billing, make sure you start with good habits and keep them. Remember that your billing entries are not just for you to meet a goal, but to explain to your clients why they need to pay for your precious time. Keep up with planning and break the vicious cycle of procrastination. Always remember to keep track of your tasks as you are doing them. With some practice, you should be maximizing your bills in no time.

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Caroline Shaffer Siex is an associate attorney at Gibbs, Armstrong, Borochoff, P.C., in Tulsa, Oklahoma.