The legal industry has a reputation for long hours and high stress. Attorneys frequently report working longer than a standard 9 to 5 workday, yet studies have shown that the average attorney spends just over two hours each day on billable work.
Those numbers are shocking – how are so many working hours falling into an unbillable black hole? And what can attorneys do instead to make sure they’re spending their time on work that both moves their cases forward and contributes to their firm’s bottom line?
What is billable time?
Before we can understand the problem of unbillable hours, we first need to understand what is billable. Billable time is the time a law firm spends working on a specific client’s case. These include things like a family law attorney spending 30 minutes drafting an email to a client, or a personal injury attorney spending an hour researching a case.
These tasks will be carefully recorded by the attorney and added to the client’s invoice.
What is unbillable time?
Unbillable time is time spent on tasks that may be important to the functioning of a law firm but doesn’t pertain to a specific case and will not be charged to a client. Time keeping, calendaring, continuing legal education, and legal marketing all fall into this category.
How to balance billable and unbillable hours
Some unbillable hours are necessary – continuing legal education and professional networking can hardly be considered a waste of time, even if they never make it onto an invoice.
Other sources of unbillable hours, however, can be minimized. Get started with the following three-step approach:
- Identify unbillable tasks that have potential to be automated. Calendaring is one example of a task that can be effectively managed through automation. Practice management software with a built-in legal calendar makes sure that everyone in the firm has access to the most up-to-date scheduling information. Smokeball’s legal software even syncs with your Outlook calendar and the Smokeball mobile app to end the days of double (or triple) entering appointments and events.
- Take stock of what tasks you complete each week that are billable, but aren’t making it to your timesheets. A common culprit is time spent texting your clients. Digital technology has led to the expectation that attorneys be accessible, and clients may expect frequent updates on their cases – which attorneys may not think to keep track of. Using a secure communication app such as Communicate allows for the convenience of texting while also tracking time spent messaging back and forth.
- Look critically at how you’re tracking your time. Not only is inconsistent manual time tracking likely to result in inaccuracies, time spent recording and reporting your hours is an unbillable task itself! Implementing automatic time tracking means user activity is tracked and time entries are created in real time, making it a snap to construct accurate invoices at the end of each billing cycle.
Implementing legal software like Smokeball is the logical next step for firms who want to maximize their profitability and reduce time spent on unbillable administrative tasks. Contact us today to learn how case management software with document automation, lead management, email management and more can revolutionize your practice, whether you’re working remotely or from the office.