Groan. The dreaded billable hour, which, like the last five minutes of a football game, never seems to end. Obviously you need to bill all your time, and you've got to be ethical about it, but are you selling yourself short? A survey conducted by timekeeping software provider Chrometa of 500 professionals who bill by the hour revealed that they captured just 67 percent of their billable time.
How do you squeeze the remaining 33 percent of that time out of your day? Here are five things you can do to make sure you're maximizing your billable hours:
1. An Hour's an Hour, No Matter How Small.
Any time you spend on a matter needs to get billed -- even if it's a two-minute phone call. "It's only two minutes," you say. Well, you're wrong twice: If your firm bills to the tenth of an hour, it's a six-minute call. Secondly, those two-minute calls add up. What if you took a two-minute call every day for the whole year but didn't bill it? That's 8.6 hours a year you just lost.
2. Write Everything Down as You Do It.
At the end of the day, I can barely remember my drive to work. Chances are you're not going to remember all the teensy-weensy things that you did, so don't wait until the end of the day -- or, god forbid, tomorrow -- to record your hours. Write everything down as you do it -- in some way that makes sense to you. Again, those minutes add up.
3. Stop Goofing Off.
Maybe the reason you only billed four hours today is because you were watching videos of cats flushing the toilet instead of researching or writing. (Reading this blog, however, is an excellent use of your time.) "I had writer's block!" you say. If you're stuck, surfing the Internet isn't your best option. It's a mindless task, but it still requires concentration; instead of hopping on Reddit, try going for a walk.
4. Be Smart About Describing Your Hours.
When the client gets the bill, the first thing he'll want to do is dispute it. Vague descriptions like two hours for "research" can result in pushback and losing some of those hours (What am I paying for? What's "research"?). Give a full, coherent description of your activities, making it clear how you're helping the client. That way, the client doesn't have a reason to complain.
5. Use Your Staff.
Generally, paralegals get billed at a lower rate than associates, and secretaries don't bill at all. In order to truly maximize your billable hours, make sure you're not doing something that a paralegal should be doing. That means don't make copies and don't file documents. Someone else can do that.
Editor's Note, September 1, 2015: This post was first published in August 2014. It has since been updated.