3 Quick Tips for Paralegals Who Have to Enter Billable Hours
Ask any paralegal working in a law firm, and they will likely tell you that drafting time entries is one of their least favorite things to do. I remember when I was a new paralegal back in the early 90s and had to draft time entries for the first time. They didn’t really cover the topic of “paralegal billable hours” in my paralegal program.
So, I asked my supervising attorney for advice on a particularly troubling entry that I had. His response was “use active verbs.”
Wow…that really takes the mystery out of drafting time entries!
Fast forward many years and a couple of law firms later. There was still no formal billable hour training from any of the firms. There was the two-page “What not to do” when drafting time entries and the general “Time Entry Policies” that reminded you when those time entry deadlines were. But there was no training on HOW to draft a time entry – and more importantly – how to make it easier to do.
As a paralegal manager, I knew I had to change that for my team. I wondered how a business that survives solely on its billable hours could not focus ANY attention on teaching this very important skill of drafting time entries. It’s almost like it was taboo to even talk about it. As if it was the elephant in the room, the skeleton in the closet, the boogeyman under the bed.
There are lots of topics we could discuss related to drafting time entries and paralegal billable hours, but this article will just focus on 3 quick tips you can implement right away.
1. Do not copy and paste another person’s time entries.
If you want to show the real value of the work you did, you cannot describe what you did by copying and pasting how someone else described what they did just because it sounds a little similar to what you did. The quick answer to your time entry problem does not include buying the “30-page E-book of Time Entries for only $29.95!” Besides, I’ve seen some of the sample time entries in those books, and many of them are actually perfect examples of what NOT to do when drafting time entries.
The primary function of drafting time entries is to convey to the billing partner and the client why your work should be billed and paid by the client. In order to do that effectively, you really must be able to answer what you did in a way that shows the value to them. Which brings us to our 2nd tip.
2. Answer 3 questions in all of your time entries.
WHAT did I do?
HOW did I do it?
WHY did I do it?
The “why” is the most important question to answer because the client is asking “Why should I pay for this?” The “why” is where you can show the value of the work you did. For example, let’s say that you talked to an expert witness about their upcoming deposition.
What did you do? Talked to J. Smith, expert witness.
How did you do it? Telephone call.
Why did you do it? To discuss documents that need to be produced prior to their deposition.
The time entry might look something like this: Telephone call with J. Smith to discuss documents subpoenaed by opposing counsel in preparation for expert witness deposition.
3. Ask yourself if you can physically show someone what it is that you’re trying to describe in the time entry.
Let’s take the previous time entry and change the word “call” to “conference.”
Telephone conference with…
Can you sit in a chair across from my desk and physically show me what it looks like to “conference?” We used to see that word used in time entries for everything from office conference, team conference, telephone conference, and more. Instead of using vague words like that, whenever possible you should use words that show action.
Instead of looking at drafting time entries as a necessary evil associated with working as a paralegal at a law firm, try looking at it like it is your opportunity to convey to the billing partner and the client the value that you bring to the table. Your time entries are a form of communication to the client. Put the same time and attention into that communication as you would a memo or an email.
Check out our article on the 7 C’s of Communication to get some tips on writing.
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About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.