“Everything depends on billing.”
—Gene Hackman as Avery Tolar in The Firm
Unless your firm has updated to a newer pricing model, like most lawyers, you are probably beholden to the billable hour. The total number of hours you put in doesn’t matter; it’s how many hours you can bill that determines your profitability and success in most law firms and legal work environments.
The good news is that you can use technology to increase your billable hours without increasing your total work hours. You just need to know how to leverage your tools to take full advantage of the efficiencies they can afford you. Technology can help improve your billing ratio in at least three ways.
Technology helps you account for all your billable hours.
The American Bar Association reports that failing to track billable time immediately causes a 20% drop in time billed. In other words, incorrect time logging could be reducing your billability by multiple hours per day. This is work that you are doing but not getting credit for and time that is benefiting your clients at no charge.
Consider using specific billing software to track your hours. If you insist on tracking manually, at least be sure you are using a spreadsheet to maintain your hours, and update that data constantly. If billable increments aren’t captured, you aren’t getting the benefits of all the work you’re doing. Capture every moment of billable work—unless you want to work for free.
Technology improves file accessibility.
You probably already use cloud storage for some of your work, but are you using it as effectively as you could be? Consider maintaining all your client files electronically instead of (or in addition to) in hard copy.
With cloud storage, you increase your file efficiency in several ways:
- you can access files from anywhere, without wasting administrative time finding files, transferring files within the office, or even traveling to the office;
- you can search files for keywords, specific phrases, or—using artificial intelligence applications—even legal concepts, regardless of how they are expressed;
- you allow everyone who needs to see a file to have access to it at the same time, immediately, from wherever they are; and
- you keep all your documents up to date, without wasting time tracking down the newest version.
Technology increases the value you add—which can increase your client base.
Some attorneys worry that the time they save using automated technology or artificial intelligence applications will decrease their billable hours. It’s true that these applications vastly reduce the time needed for document review, legal research, and contract analysis. But that doesn’t need to hurt your bottom line.
Instead, you can use the time savings you gain from technology to improve your analysis and your client communication. Don’t micromanage your technology: once you’re comfortable using your system, trust that it will identify and flag the results you need to see. Then, use your extra time to enhance your service. Can you do more searches and identify even better results for your clients? Can you explain your analysis and your clients’ options more clearly or in a different format that you previously didn’t have time to create?
Happier clients—clients who feel better served and better informed—make more referrals and bring you more business. And that may be the best way to increase your billable hours.
Are you taking full advantage of the benefits of technology for maximizing your billable hours? If not, you’re losing out—six minutes at a time.