Beat Your Billable Hour Goal This Year

Billable hours suck. There we said it. If you work in a law firm that has a billable hour requirement you’re probably thinking the same thing.

But here’s the thing. They’re not going anywhere.

Google “the death of the billable hour” and you’ll see that they started talking about it more than a decade ago and billable hours are still alive and kicking.

You may even be wondering why you should care about how many billable hours you have if it’s only making the firm more money and not you. But that’s where you’re mistaken. Hitting your billable hour goal this year has the potential to increase your income, job security, and job opportunities.

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Since billable hours are here to stay and hitting your billable hour goal as a paralegal can reap great benefits, we’ll be giving you 3 strategies for beating your billable hour goal this year and in years to come while making billable hours suck a little less. 

billable hour goal

1. Change Your Mindset Around Your Billable Hour Goal

It’s time to change your mindset around billable hours and having to enter your time. It is probably similar to what mine was early on in my career.

Why does it matter? Why does it matter if I increase my billable hours and put more money in the partner’s pockets? It’s not like they’re giving me a percentage of what I’m bringing in. Why should this matter to me as the paralegal?

You’re not alone in wondering about the answers to these questions, but there are three big reasons why they matter.

Increase Your Income Potential

As a revenue generator for the firm, you have the potential to increase your own income, either through a bonus or a salary increase. Now, it might not be written in stone or guaranteed, but I can tell you that when I was a paralegal manager, I had a lot more leeway with bonuses and raises for the paralegals who were billing more hours. It’s a given that the more money you make for an employer, regardless of whether you’re a car salesman or you work for an eDiscovery vendor, the more potential you have to make more money.

Think of it like this. There’s a pool of money at the end of the year for raises and bonuses. This is assuming that you don’t even have a direct bonus based on the number of hours you billed. Some firms have that bonus structure where if you hit X number of billable hours you get X bonus, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about just your standard year-end performance bonus. It’s called a performance bonus for a reason. The size of your bonus is based on your performance. Not…did you do exactly what’s in your job description. Not…I did everything that was asked of me and I did it correctly.

A performance bonus is supposed to be based on you performing above and beyond your basic job duties. Let’s say, you are required to have at least 1,600 billable hours in a year, and you have 1,625 hours. The paralegal sitting across the hall from you also has positive performance reviews, but she billed 1,800 hours. In almost every situation, that paralegal is probably going to get a bigger bonus than you. Why? Because it’s easier for a manager to justify a bigger raise or bonus when they have solid numbers to show.

It’s never based strictly on the number of billable hours, but it is one of many factors. When I was a paralegal manager, I used to focus more on what the productivity numbers looked like. What’s the percentage of time that they’re working compared to their billable hours. I think that paints a better picture – because you could have one paralegal who puts in 200 hours of overtime to get the same amount of billable hours as someone else. 

For example, with the numbers we’ve used so far, let’s say the paralegal who billed 1,625 hours didn’t have any overtime for the year. But the one who billed 1,800 hours had over 250 hours of overtime that year. If you’re just looking at the number of billable hours, then you’d think 1,800 looks great. This is until you look at productivity. Increase your productivity with these time management tips. Change your mindset and start increasing your billable hours to start making more money!

Increase Your Job Security

The second reason why billable hours matter is increased job security. This is not all law firms, but I can tell you that when layoff decisions were being made in the 2008-2009 recession, they were made based on billable hours, not just tenure. It makes sense. Right?

Why would a firm lay off an associate or a paralegal who’s billing 2,000 hours while keeping the other person sitting down the hall who rarely hits 1,000 hours per year? Multiplied by $200 per hour, that’s an extra $200,000 in revenue for the firm and at the end of the day your law firm is a business. It has to make money to keep the doors open.

Billable hours are a metric that firms use to figure out how busy they are and how much work they have to do. If they have someone who is consistently billing 800 to 1,000 hours a year, and another person who’s billing 1,800 hours a year. They may assume that the first person doesn’t have enough work to do. Maybe as a firm or a team within the firm, they don’t have enough work to keep all of these people busy and they might need to look at reducing their staff.

Change your mindset and start beating your billable hour goal to increase your job security. Here are 3 key numbers to be tracking with your billable hours.

Increase Your Career Potential

Billable hours affect your future job potential. Maybe you don’t care about the first two reasons, but for this one you should. A lot of managers ask about your billable hours in job interviews. You can expect them to ask: How many hours are you typically billing at your current employer? What’s the billable hour goal versus how many you actually bill?

Employers don’t want to get into a situation where they are hiring someone who has worked at a firm, billing an average of 1,000 – 1,200 hours a year when the billable hour requirement is 1,800 hours.

As a manager, you have to ask yourself, can this person do the job? Part of the job requirement is meeting 1,800 billable hours. We know it’s not easy. I’ve been there as well. I had a billable hour quota that I had to meet my entire professional career spent working in a law firm and they were pretty high billable hour requirements.

A law firm’s only source of revenue is its billable hour. It doesn’t sell widgets on Amazon or have a store that people walk into to buy a product. The only way a law firm keeps its doors open and keeps people employed is from the billable hours that it brings in.

As someone with a billable hour quota, you have the potential to help with that. Shift your mindset and think of it more as a positive thing. You’re adding to the bottom line.

Here’s why mindset is so important. I could probably cite a hundred quotes about mindset, but I think this one is most relevant.

What we resist persists.

We can buck against the system and be aggravated or frustrated at the time it takes to enter our time. We can wait until the last minute to enter it, hoping that someone is going to send out an announcement that morning that you don’t have to enter your time anymore. Or we can stop resisting and start using billable hours to our advantage.

You could shift your mindset and say “You know, this is actually a GOOD thing because I’m generating revenue for the firm – which makes me more valuable to them.”

2. Remember That You Are a Timekeeper

Remember that you are a timekeeper in your organization, not the billing partner. A lot of people who are timekeepers forget that the definition of a timekeeper is someone who accurately records the amount of time spent on a project or thing, or in your case, a client.

billable hour goal

Compare that to the billing partner, whose role it is or responsibility it is to make sure the amount of time billed to the client is appropriate. As a timekeeper, ask yourself, do you find yourself occasionally rounding down on your time? Maybe it’s because a 1.0 doesn’t look as good on the bill as a 0.8 or 0.9. Maybe you were told early in your career to try not to have a .0 at the end of your entry. Instead of a 2.0 it’s a 1.8 even though you used a timer and you know you spent exactly 2 hours on that project.

Maybe it’s because you think you spent a little bit too much time on that project. And so instead of a 4.8, you put down 4.4, I promise you those point ones to point threes and more are adding up throughout the day, throughout the month, and all year long. Point one here. Point two there. I’ve seen people increase their billable hours by as much as a hundred hours or more in a year, just by shifting their mindset and remembering they are a timekeeper. It’s your responsibility to accurately record the amount of time spent on a project or client. Here are some tips for drafting time entries.

3. Use a Timer

Almost every time entry application now has a built-in timer and even if you don’t have one inside the app, then use your phone’s timer. And yet, every day I hear from people who aren’t using a timer to accurately account for their time.

Let me share a perfect example of the difference a timer can make. I had a situation where I was working with a law firm, teaching the Billable Hour Boot Camp live through Zoom calls earlier this year. Most of their paralegals were not using the timer inside their time entry app. The two who were using the timer coincidentally also had the highest annual billable hours. Or maybe it’s not such a coincidence?

I had them do an experiment. Set and use the timer for 3 consecutive days. But at the same time, before you turn the timer off on when you finish that project, write down the time that you think you spent. The time you would have logged for that project. And almost every one of them was short compared to what the timer read. They added those shorts up for the 3 days, and on average they lost around 1 – 2 hours over those three days. That may not sound like a lot to you but think about that over the course of a year. I hope that this has helped you – maybe you still think billable hours suck. I get it. But…maybe there are also some positives to having billable hours in our lives. For strategies to increase your billable hours, sign up for our free video series below.

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Meet the Author

Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.

Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. Her training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.

When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.

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