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After the Bar

Practice Management

Essential Billable Hour Guide for New Lawyers

Kate Ahern


  • Law school doesn't teach practical practice skills like how to approach a billable-hours-based practice. 
  • Understanding fundamental skills like the billable hour is crucial to success in the legal industry. 
  • This guide examines issues with the billable hour model; talks through concrete numbers and examples; discusses how to track time, pitfalls, and best practices; and shares ideas for protecting and advancing yourself in your practice.
Essential Billable Hour Guide for New Lawyers

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Law students do not usually learn practical practice skills in law school, such as approaching a billable-hours-based practice. These daily practice skills are crucial to success in the legal industry and are a significant and unnecessary obstacle for new lawyers. Early-career lawyers without such guidance face a significant disadvantage when starting practice. Basic practice skills and knowledge, such as billable hour best practices, also help level the playing field for marginalized lawyers.

This billable-hour guide empowers new lawyers by providing information, insight, and best practices regarding billable hours. In addition, it provides action steps for users and guidance on advancing new skills learned as their careers move forward. The guide introduces the billable hour concept, examines issues with the billable hour model, discusses concrete numbers and examples, discusses tracking time, pitfalls, and best practices, and shares ideas for protecting and advancing yourself in a billable hours-based practice. 

Please note: You may use this guide for educational purposes as a starting point in building your approach to a billable hours-based practice. It’s up to you to find a strategy that works for you and your practice. Please carefully review and follow applicable professional responsibility rules in the state(s) where you practice before implementing your approach.

Introduction to the Billable Hour

This initial session introduces the author and the concept of the billable hour. We’ll discuss what you can expect from this guide and the roadmap we’ll follow as we progress through the other recordings.

Issues with Billable Hours

We’ll start by discussing some issues with the billable hour to be aware of as you start your practice.

By the Numbers

Next, we’ll get concrete, talking about how billable hours are usually measured, the concept and effects of billable hour targets, and a deep dive (with examples) into the day-to-day impact of those numbers.

How to Keep and Track Your Time

In this section, we’ll discuss how to track your time, options that may be available to you at your firm, and best practices.

Planning for and Hitting Your Targets

In this section, we’ll cover practical tips on how to be successful in a billable hours-based practice.

Describing Your Time

Building on the previous section, we’ll discuss the concept of describing your time and why it is important.

Time Narratives Best Practices

In this section, we’ll walk through an approach to making time tracking and descriptions easier and more manageable.

Billable Hours Best Practices

Building on our above discussions, we’ll discuss some billable hours best practices to help you see continued success as your career advances.

Making the Most of Your Time

Finally, we’ll wrap up by zooming out a bit to talk about the importance of making good use of your time and the connection to billable hours.

Additional Billable-Hour Resources

These podcast episodes, from inside and outside the legal industry, provide interesting discussions of other ways to bill for services and get your wheels turning (these examples are referenced in context in the above recordings).