As an attorney, you’re likely aware of your time’s high value. In fact, time for attorneys very often is money. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of hours in the day, which clearly limits how much billable work you can accomplish. However, not everything an attorney has to spend time doing is billable, further restricting the number of billable hours in the day. What’s more, attorneys often find their precious free time dissipating as their workload intensifies, putting even more pressure on attorneys to finish their work as quickly as possible.
All these factors 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 nonbillable, tasks?
First, let’s look at what consumes your time for which you cannot bill your clients.
- First and foremost, you can’t bill your clients for putting your bills together.
- Next, you can’t bill for administrative tasks, such as client file retrieval and organization, technology startup/setup, calculating and calendaring legal deadlines, and transportation time between your home and office or multiple offices/workspaces.
- Finally, you typically shouldn’t bill your clients for general necessities of practicing law, such as researching the rules of procedure, unless those tasks are specialized requirements of your client’s matter.
You’ll notice that all of these tasks are not something that can simply be cut out of the client matter work or your schedule; even if you can’t bill clients for the time you spend on them, they need to get done.
Thus, instead of spending no time on them, we have to figure out how to minimize the amount of time that we, or our staff, spend on them while still ensuring that these things get done correctly.
1. Bills, bills, bills
One of the easiest ways to cut down on the amount of time that you spend on this is to record time contemporaneously as you work. It used to be that attorneys needed to track time on paper, sticky notes, or in spreadsheets and then collect all of the entries and enter them into another system to actually generate invoices. Thankfully, technology has evolved and small law firms can now use cloud-based legal practice management technology to electronically track time and automatically generate invoices, saving hours – perhaps days’ worth – of valuable time.
Cloud-based legal practice management solutions make it easy to capture your time with built-in timers. These timers enable you to record your time from anywhere at any time. Within the same system, you can easily complete billing activities by smoothly compiling all of your recorded, unbilled time into a professional-looking invoice.
2. Matter organization
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.
The most effective way to keep highly organized client files is to maintain completely electronic client and matter files. Again, cloud-based legal practice management technology makes this all possible. While it may take some extra time to set up electronic files initially since you have to scan any papers that you receive, courts are increasingly transitioning into paperless environments – meaning that you’ll have to have your documents in an electronic form one way or another. And as you may have noticed, many clients prefer to communicate electronically anyway.
To take full advantage of electronic client files, look for a practice management solution that indexes every word within the saved document. This will make file and document retrieval easier than you may have ever believed possible. Every time you search on a keyword or phrase, the returned results will include documents with that keyword or phrase in its title or body. Eliminating the “fishing expedition” of finding a missing document or client file in a sea of papers and file folders will clearly save countless hours.
3. Legal calendaring
Another unbillable administrative task that takes up valuable time is calculating legal deadlines. Its importance cannot be overstated, however, since 34% of malpractice claims are due to the failure to calendar properly. Cloud-based legal practice management software can eliminate both the administrative burden and malpractice risk associated with manually calculating legal deadlines. Practice management solutions with a built-in legal calculator can automate this activity based on your jurisdiction’s rules, send automatic updates when there are changes to these rules, and sync the deadlines with your Microsoft® Outlook® calendar for an organized view of upcoming events.
The use of technology, specifically cloud-based legal practice management software, can help you regain the valuable time previously spent on nonbillable administrative work, giving you more time for billable activities, business development and client relations, or personal time – or all of the above. And getting more personal time may be just as valuable (if not more so) than billable hours.
About the author
Jeremy Byellin is an attorney practicing in the areas of family law and estate planning. Jeremy is knowledgeable in legal technology and enjoys writing about the benefits it can bring small law firms.