Turn Billable Hour Blues into Green & White

Billable hours don’t make much sense.*

Now that we have that out of the way, the reality remains, law tends to move at the speed of……molasses, which means – many of us are stuck with the billable hour model for the time being.  But, until we have a model that works better, let’s make sure we’re thriving under the billable hour regime and making it work for us.

To do that, you need control over your time and predictability surrounding your billable hour picture so you can turn your billable hour blues into:

GREEN.  You guessed it: money.  In other words, that control and predictability will help you to secure and increase your income.

WHITE.  Perhaps instead of (or in addition to) more money, you would rather have more time – more white, empty space on your calendar.

Sound good?  Great, so, how do you get there?

First, recognize the signs that you need more control over your billable time, such as:

  • You spent lots of time in the office, or logged on, but you don’t have the billable hours to show for it.
  • During this past year, you didn’t always know exactly where you were on your billable hour target for the year.  In other words, if someone asked in the middle of the year, would you know exactly how many billable hours you needed to bill every work day until the year to hit your target exactly, after taking vacation days, holidays, conferences, etc. and lost time into account?
  • You found yourself just trying to bill as many hours as possible, hoping they added up the way you wanted, with no plan other than “Keep running on the billable treadmill.”  The days felt like they were blending together, and you are now exhausted.
  • You sort of knew where you were on your billable target, but you wasted time every week or month doing not-so-fun billable hour number crunching.

Next, start taking steps to take back control.  (I’m here to help, so if this is a conversation you want to see continue, make sure that you click right here so I know there are people like you out there that want to keep it going in 2017!)

In the meantime, here are a few quick tips to get you started on getting more control, more predictability, more money, more time, and a better billable life in 2017:

  • Learn how and when to say no. 
    It should be so simple, but we know it’s not.  Every time you say yes to something you are taking time away from something else.  Figure out if you have a “yes reflex” and what to do about it.
  • Look for billable time in your planning time.
    We planning types love a good organizational moment, am I right?  If you take time daily or weekly to go over your to do list, or to review the status on your open matters, you may not bill for that time.  However, when we go through that process, we are often doing billable work along the way.  For example, when reviewing your to-dos, maybe you discover a quick billable task you can do right now, like sending a quick email, or maybe when you start reviewing a project your mind quickly jumps to thinking through how you’re going to draft that provision of the agreement tomorrow, or you have a great idea on how to structure a deal or an argument you can make.

    However, because you’re in organization-mode and not billable-mode, you may not stop to question whether you have just done billable work or to record that time.  Get in the habit of keeping your radar upduring your planning time so you’re not missing hours – if you’re a regular planner, those hours can really add up!
  • Pay attention to whether your efficiency and effectiveness are hurting you.
    Let’s face it – billable hours do not really reward those qualities.  So if you have found a way to be more efficient and effective with your time, good for you, your firm and your clients are lucky to have you!  Unfortunately, being efficient and effective may not inure to your benefit.  You’re probably getting more done in less billable time.  In other words, perhaps your time is more valuable. Think about whether your billable hour rate should be adjusted to reflect factors like the value you provide or your specialty or high-demand practice area.  Your firm may not realize the additional value you are providing in your practice area or client industries.

    So have that conversation if it makes sense for you (the new calendar year is a perfect excuse to have that chat).  If you do increase your rate, or if you already have a higher rate, remember that firms too often look at the number of hours billed, rather than whether one person with a higher rate is more valuable, even with lower billable hours.  You may need to draw attention to your higher value though a self-review or a review meeting.  If you are efficient and a planner, you might also consider whether there is work that should be done on a fixed-fee basis, which can be better for you and your clients.  (Plus then you can help lead the charge away from billable hours!)
  • Take a Shortcut.
    Stop the stressful, time-wasting, billable hour number-crunching madness.  I created this easy-to-use Billable Hour Tool (based on the one I used myself) to help others instantly get predictability and control over billable time and to help them thrive in this billable hour world for as long as we’re stuck with it.  Be sure you have a tool or method that helps you keep track easily so you don't waste time that could be put to better use.  

Here’s to a better billable life in the new year!


* If you’re curious about why and how we got to the billable hour model in the first place, check out the October 17th, 2016 episode of the Gen Why Lawyer Podcast.

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