Best Practices for Billable Hours: How to Bill Time in Your Law Firm
Automating your time and billing processes gives your firm the best opportunity to thrive. Those who do not embrace legal technology will soon struggle to survive. Firms that become operationally efficient, work smarter, and offer automatic payment options will outpace those who continue to rely on paper-based methods, no matter the firm’s size. In this post, we look at how technology explicitly helps firms outpace their competition by outlining best practices for billable hours.
How Technology Maximizes Your Billable Hours
Maximizing billable hours is every firm’s key to success. The more efficient an attorney like you can be with your time, the more money you can place in your pocket. But what does “efficient” really mean in the context of your average law firm, and how can legal technology really help? Let’s take a look at the following best practices for billable hours.
Setting up your calendar.
You already know how to schedule an important event date on your calendar. But, when you added that important date, how helpful would it be if all other important dates automatically populated that calendar? Let’s say you’ve got a court date scheduled. That means you also need to schedule key dates to file motions, meet with your client, prepare filings, and more. Of course, no two cases are exactly alike, but consider all the shared scheduling similarities. Imagine if when you added one key date to your calendar, all the other important dates and tasks were added too? How much time would that save you for every case or matter you handled?
Inputting client information once.
How many times have you typed (or pasted) your client’s name and address, the case file number, and other key details? With legal practice management technology, you only input it once. Yes, once. Then all your connected files, notes, tasks, invoices, and everything else you want to relate to that case pulls from that one data source to automatically populate all other appropriate fields. Say you need a Power of Attorney. It’s easy to click on your document template and see all the key information instantly populate the fields. You can check it to make sure it looks right, then click to email or share it with your client for signature. Instant population of information on all client documents. Let that sink in. And think about how much time you would save on every case or matter.
Filling in fields instead of recreating documents.
You know your firm, your processes, your key documents. What if you could take every single document that you use regularly, and turn it into a template with easily fillable fields? That’s the power of legal document automation. No more redundant cutting and pasting, ever. Imagine just clicking on the template, letting the key fields automatically populate, and then simply adding any specific details before sending it off to the court, another attorney, or a client. Taking it a step further, what if you used correspondence (letters and emails) templates? How much time would you free up if never again you had to write “Attached please find…”?
Tracking time seamlessly as you work.
Time tracking is a hassle. If you don’t do it in the moment, you’re bound to get it wrong. And with a paper system, you’re manually recounting and recording detailed activities to the best of your memory. Then you must compile those details and remember to bill them all when the time is right. When you integrate technology, you can literally track every task in real time, and have that time automatically assigned to the appropriate case or matter. One click. Next thing you know, the time information is sent over to billing, ready for invoicing. The impact of automated time tracking is measured in multiple ways. First, you save the time you would’ve spent recounting your activities and manually inputting them for billing. Secondly, you end up with more accurate and transparent tasks, which solidifies your client relationship. Lastly, with a more accurate picture of how you spend your time, the more you can spot inefficiencies and the activities that are most profitable.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”— Peter Drucker
Organization that would make Marie Kondo proud.
No matter how amazing your physical filing system is, it cannot compete with digital organization. Why? Because in the digital space, technology allows everything to connect, from emails and documents to tasks and invoices. Your notes, research, pleadings, transcripts, dates, contact information, are all connected and sortable the way you want it.
Imagine your whole office connected.
By case number.
By adverse parties.
By case or matter type.
Now think about how much time you currently spend searching for a single piece of case-related information. Multiply that by how often you search for something each week. Then realize that you get all that time back with technology.
Immediately seeing the status of every case.
Sometimes it’s a challenge to remember exactly where you last left a case, especially if there’s been an extended gap in time, or if you’re working on multiple cases and matters simultaneously. Getting back up to speed on a case in the paper-based model takes time and effort. With technology, you can immediately get an overview of the case status, and can then drill down into any detail, from the status on due diligence, to the latest correspondence from a client to the next key date. All without digging through notes, tracking down emails and events, or questioning others. You get your search time back, plus you’ll never miss a client deadline, which can only strengthen your relationship.
Billing becomes a painless process.
With technology, billing can literally be a click of a button. You can set up cycles and modes that align with your client contracts. And since your time was tracked all along the way, invoices simply get populated with all detailed tasks and calculated rates. The same is true for expenses and trust account fees. Technology can also provide easy ways for your client to pay electronically, which helps you collect revenue faster and more efficiently.
Think about your last 90 days. How much time did you waste compiling, calculating, and sending invoices? What about following up on late payments? Processing payments? You can get virtually all those hours back, plus know that your invoices are correct, and you can enjoy the benefits of efficient, timely payments.
You can carry your office in your pocket.
How many times have you gotten a call where you needed to access case or matter information quickly, but that information was nowhere near your fingertips? How many times have you gotten that call after hours or when you were away from the office? With technology, you can carry your office in your pocket. You can see your cases, files, clients, phone calls, time entries, notes, and more on the go. Wherever you are. Imagine having the freedom to be away from your office without worry. You will save the time it would normally take to get to the office to find the information, but also you will gain time and build strong client relationships.
You only have to set it up once.
Implementing a new way of working can seem overwhelming. Thinking about templates, workflows, and billing modes can seem daunting. But if you want your firm to thrive, you’re going to need to evolve with the industry. You must work in the way that best suits your clients. Technology is the great equalizer, allowing firms of all sizes to outpace competitors by being a leader, not a laggard.
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