How Attorneys Use a Billable Hours Chart To Track Time
Billable hours play a pivotal role in the profitability and success of law firms. They're also a key metric for lawyers to meet their firm’s minimum quota and maximize time spent on their practice.
With attorneys clocking in an average of 1,700 to 2,300 billable hours a year, lawyers don’t have time to lose. Unfortunately, billable hours can be painstaking to track and time-consuming to calculate.
That’s where a billable hours chart comes into play. A billable hours chart streamlines the timekeeping process and is simple for lawyers to use and easy for clients to understand. It also results in more accurate invoicing and a better client experience.
What Is a Billable Hours Chart?
A billable hours chart is a standardized template that helps users track, calculate, and invoice clients based on increments of an hour spent working billable hours. This timekeeping method is accurate and transparent so that users avoid common invoicing mistakes, like over or underbilling for services rendered.
Law firms apply 6-minute increments as an industry standard, but one could make a billable hours chart for any increment of time.
Why Do Lawyers Use a 6-Minute Increment Chart?
Most attorneys use 6-minute increments (one-tenth of an hour) for clarity and efficiency during invoicing. Billing in smaller increments is time-consuming and laborious, while manual calculations are prone to human error. On the other hand, billing in larger increments can lead to excessive padding and create dissonance for clients between the amount owed and the actual work performed.
Six-minute increments are a fair middle ground to track time with precision, transparency, and a touch of flexibility.
Sample Attorney Billable Hours Chart
The chart below uses 6-minute billing time increments. We encourage you to save this chart or bookmark this page for future use.
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How To Use a Billable Hours Chart
Using a 6-minute increment chart is simple and straightforward. To calculate how many billable hours you worked, simply locate the number of minutes in the left column, then record the billing increment to its right.
For example, say it takes 14 minutes to respond to a client’s email. Using the above chart as a reference, you’ll find that this amount of time falls within the 13-18 range of the “Minutes” column. You can then follow this row to the “Billing Increment” column, which gives us 0.3.
Now you know that you can bill the client for 0.3 hours of your time. If you worked several hours, you could also use this chart to calculate billable time.
Here’s an example: Imagine it took 6 hours and 28 minutes to research a client’s case. In this scenario, you would bill 6.5. That is 1.0 for each of the 6 hours and 0.5 for the 28 minutes.
How Can a Billable Hours Chart Help Attorneys More Accurately Track Time?
Instead of manual and time-consuming calculations, an attorney billable hours chart makes tracking and logging billable time easier and faster.
With the help of a billable hours chart, lawyers can:
- Easily convert 6-minute increments to a billable hour
- Accurately invoice clients for legal services
- Spend less time on manual calculations
- Gain time to work billable hours
Billable Hours vs. Non-Billable Hours
Whether you’re tracking time with a billable hours chart or a legal case management system, knowing how to differentiate billable vs. non-billable hours is crucial for accurate timekeeping.
Billable hours are the time spent by a lawyer that require compensation from the client. Any dedicated time spent working directly on a client’s case is considered a billable hour.
Examples of Lawyer Billable Hours
- Performing research directly related to a client’s case
- Developing a client’s case
- Responding to a client’s correspondence
- Meeting with clients or other persons on the case
- Revisions of a case
Non-billable hours cannot be charged to a client but play an integral role in the firm’s day-to-day operations and continued success.
Examples of Lawyer Non-Billable Hours
- Reporting on quarterly metrics
- Responding to internal emails
- Participating in team meetings
- Attending a networking event
- Administrative tasks
If you’re unsure if an activity is considered billable or non-billable, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Was the work a necessary component of the case?
- Did the client agree to the task in advance?
- Did the time spent fulfill a client’s needs?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can bill according to the 6-minute increment chart.
Best Practices for Using a Billable Hours Chart
While billing time increments are easy to use, they require general guidelines to function effectively and ethically.
Our best practices will help you avoid these poor billing habits:
- Bill blocking or bill padding
- Underbilling for services rendered
- Billing for office overhead and administrative tasks
- Sitting on invoices that are ready to be mailed out Instead, follow these best practices when billing time increments:
Track in Real Time The most accurate billing comes from tracking as you go. With a lawyer’s never-ending workload, it’s easy to forget about small tasks that can quickly add up to a substantial loss of revenue. To account for all billable hours, tracking in real-time makes it easier to stay on top of all billable work.
Prioritize the Client To nurture a strong attorney-client relationship, transparency is key when discussing your firm’s billing practices. You’ll want to clearly explain your firm’s rates and billing process early on so clients have time to clarify questions and understand expectations for future payments.
One way to solidify a mutual understanding and agreement is through the appropriate paperwork. For example, an attorney fee agreement outlines all payment-related information necessary to render legal services. From how fees are calculated to which expenses are the responsibility of the client, each component is laid out for both parties to reference during the billing process.
Another document that helps clients fulfill their financial responsibilities is a credit card authorization form. Whether it’s for a one-time payment or recurring payments, this document outlines when clients will be invoiced, for how much, and from which account.
Be Honest When Tracking Time All billing methods should be client-centric and serve their case with accuracy and honesty. While it may be tempting to round up to the nearest hour, padding hours is unethical and unwarranted. Conversely, accurately tracking time allows lawyers to maximize their legitimate billable hours, which can aid in performance reviews done by the firm. Use Detailed Descriptions Descriptions should be concise but with enough information to clearly communicate services to your client (and jog your memory in the case of a potential dispute). Use details that will help clients understand the work performed and support the time spent on their case.
Let's look at two examples of itemized invoice descriptions.
Bad example: “Attorney services”
Good example: “Initial consultation with client”
The first example doesn’t tell us anything specific about the service or work performed. It’s far too broad and would leave a client wondering what exactly went into these “attorney services.”
Our second example is much clearer. A client can read and understand exactly when and what work was performed. The number of billable hours that would be attached to this item would also be accurate and reasonable for this specific task.
For even more billing best practices, get a copy of our Legal Billing Do’s and Don’ts Checklist.
A Better Time Tracking Solution: Legal Case Management Software
While a billable hours chart is a step in the right direction, what if we told you that there is an even better and more accurate way to keep track of billable hours?
Legal case management software.
In addition to aiding in every step of a client’s life cycle, legal case management software can help with the most sensitive timekeeping. Whether logging a call, uploading supporting documents, or attending a court hearing, a law firm timekeeping solution accounts for every minute.
And when time is money, there’s no better way to make the most of it.
One legal case management software that offers timekeeping services is MyCase, an AffiniPay brand.
MyCase is an intuitive and powerful legal case management software for modern law firms. Designed to cover the entire client lifecycle, from lead management to case management, billing and invoicing, and robust reporting, MyCase makes it easier to stay organized and grow faster with its all-in-one approach.
Combined with LawPay's comprehensive online payment system, law firms have everything they need to efficiently run their business from anywhere (while keeping track of every minute).
With the MyCase time tracking feature, you can:
- Automatically track time on calls and emails
- Get prompts to track time when performing billable activities
- Easily locate billable time that may otherwise have fallen through the cracks
- Create invoices that accurately reflect your billable time
- Monitor how much time you’ve spent on a case
Ultimately, using a legal case management software is a reliable way to streamline your time-tracking process and make room for more billable tasks.
Start Tracking Billable Hours More Efficiently
Lawyers have enough on their plates, and meticulous timekeeping isn’t nearly as rewarding as working a case. Keep your firm’s attorneys focused on their practice with legal software that streamlines the timekeeping process and mitigates errors.
Together, we help firms:
- Track time spent on billable and non-billable hours
- Identify billable activities with a proprietary Smart Time Finder
- Send customizable invoices
- Accept payments through a variety of methods
- Manage payments to track and maximize your cash flow
- Schedule recurring payments to minimize late payments
To implement an effective strategy and get the most out of your firm’s billable hours, contact our team today.