Tracking billable hours can be challenging, but is essential for your business to succeed.
Charity Anastasio, an adviser for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Natalie Kelly, director of the Law Practice Management Program for the State Bar of Georgia, offer advice in the ABA webinar, “Tips and Tools for Capturing Billable Time.”
Anastasio and Kelly delve into billing best practices to increase revenue and technology tools for capturing time and maintaining proper records to stay in compliance with ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5, 1.6, and 1.15.
Without good tracking of billable hours, it’s easy to find yourself facing an ethics dilemma or even disciplinary measures or disbarment. Always review your bills to avoid allegations of padding, or even billing more than 24 hours in one day – especially when logging time for two different cases at the same time. “You can really only bill one case at one time, then you can switch to another task,” Anastasio says. “You need to make sure that your processes reflect reality in that sense.”
You can only charge reasonable fees – Model Rule 1.5 or your state’s equivalent – and there are several factors in that rule, mostly defining what exactly makes the fee reasonable. Subordinate lawyers are responsible for their own actions, even if they were instructed by a supervising lawyer.
There are many tools to help you keep time effectively. A downloaded paper time sheet is not the most efficient way to capture billable hours, but it’s a start in thinking through who did what on which case and keeping track of everything. “This is a starting point,” Kelly says.
Some of the time-tracking tools available include Bill4Time, Tali, Time59, eBillity, Chrometa, i-Timesheets and eBillingHub. Most of these products are cloud-based time trackers, accessible across the internet from browser screens on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Some are built into larger practice management systems, such as Chrometa, which tracks your internet usage on any device.
“The marketplace has an interesting array of options for capturing billable time,” Kelly says. “Remember, the end goal is to get that information your business needs and to prove what you’ve done.”
You want to determine your profitability and productivity – are you doing things with your time that you should be doing?
Systems vary in cost. For example, Time59 is $100 a year for a web-based, simple system that offers everything a small firm needs. Or for $80 a month, something like iTimeKeep offers more features – such as integration with other products you’re already using or more automation – so you’re getting more out of the product.
Practice management tools are the front-office part of your business where you organize your contacts, calendar and to-do lists around a particular matter or a case. “Nowadays you have timers that are built in to the practice management system, so you can capture billable time and also do the billings,” Kelly says. Some programs have on-screen timers so when the program is open, you can categorize your work and classify billable hours accurately. Some even have a feature that pauses when you’re interrupted by a phone call or email. There also are voice-activated systems, which are perfect for those who prefer to dictate.
“Having those shortcuts built in to your system can really help you to be more efficient,” Kelly says. Look for flexibility in programs that fit exactly how you conduct business and addresses areas that need improvement. Some programs will integrate timer, calendar and billing codes to help keep your office running smoothly.