For lawyers, working long hours is often seen as part of the job. But are the hours you work really contributing to your billable hours and bottom line?
It’s easy to get lost in the many, many tasks required of successful lawyers. Billing, research, client management, case details – all of these take time. Some to-dos are unavoidable and are all part of running a strong practice. But improving how these responsibilities are completed can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on them, leaving you with more time that can be spent on billable pieces.
Even if you only manage to free up thirty minutes extra each day by using the below strategies, if you bill at $200 an hour that’s an extra $500 a week – and more than $25,000 a year!
You’re constantly going to be pulled in different directions. At any given time, there are likely multiple pressing tasks that need your attention and as much as we’d like to be excellent multi-taskers, the research shows that humans are built to work best when their attention is focused on a single thing.
To avoid getting distracted and ending the day with many tasks only halfway completed, devote time to working on a specific item. Shut off any distractions, including your phone and email is possible, and get as much done as you can while being singularly focused. This type of work also helps to eliminate any errors you may make while splitting attention.
This tactic has even resulted in a popular practice called the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks down work in 20-25 minute chunks with a short break after each block of time worked. During that time, you’re only supposed to work on the single task at hand. If you want to try this out, there’s an online timer you can use to notify you when the work block is over: Pomodoro Timer.
Optimize and Outsource
The key to mastering time in your practice is to eliminate as many non-billable tasks from your workload as possible. Take a week and make a note of all of the tasks you handle and then see which ones are billable and which aren’t. For those that aren’t, ask yourself if there’s a more efficient way of handling these responsibilities or if someone else can do them.
Client intake is a prime example of how much time can be spent without billing for it. From answering the initial calls, vetting the potential client to gathering paperwork from them, you can easily spend hours a week without making a penny. Every part of this process can be completed by a legal assistant or paralegal or outsourced.
For these types of non-billable tasks you can also outsource to experienced legal support professionals. Services such as Ruby Receptionists or Back Office Betties can help to vet phone calls before you or your staff even speak to someone. There are even resources like LawClerk which allow you to hire freelance lawyers to help with things like legal research, contracts and agreements, and motions and pleadings.
Technology tools typically cost money, but the amount of time they save you more than covers their cost. By embracing technology, you can run a more efficient practice and use software to handle the heavy lifting of manual and administrative tasks.
Eliminate manually updating each section of your commonly used documents. Instead, use technology to autofill the document with case information pulled from your document management program.
Billing and accounting
Use batch invoicing and emailing to get invoices out quickly, while automating the collections process to send reminders after a certain number of days past due.
Track your time on the go with a mobile app rather than writing it down and having to record it in the system later.
If you’re constantly on to go and out of the office at court or client’s offices, being able to dictate emails and notes can be a game-changer. Tools such as Dragon allow you to speak and turn your words into written text. While not always 100% accurate, they’re still able to drastically increase productivity.
The phrase “work smarter, not harder” is one every lawyer should keep in mind when thinking about how to fit more billable hours into their day. Being diligent in your work can’t be replaced, but there are ways to get the most out of the hours you put in. These time management savers will help you create a concrete plan to start adding more billable time to your invoicing.