For most attorneys, there is nothing as dreadful as billing for work completed on client matters. Shhhhh . . . it’s a secret you are not supposed to know.
I mean it is time consuming, annoying, you’ve got to account for every single moment you work on a client’s matter, and do so in a manner that feels like you are almost required to have a stop watch. Also, while most attorneys should get in the habit of documenting their tasks performed on each client matter throughout the day so that at the end of the day, it’s easy-breezy, most don’t. Many wait till much later making billing really dreadful.
Well, guess what? If you are an attorney (employed with a firm) reading this, whether in a small or large firm; or you are the owner of your firm, your liberation day has come, thanks to the book ‘The Billable Hour, a Practitioner’s Guide to Smarter Billing’ written by Annie J. Dike, a fellow lawyer for lawyers. If you dislike billing, which is practically every lawyer I have met or know, then this is a good book to have.
When I received my review copy of Dike’s book, the first thing that immediately resonated with me was how very “cut to the chase” Dike is in her book. It is already hard enough to deal with billing, regardless of what billing software you use. So, the last thing I need as a lawyer-entrepreneur is to spend time with legal shenanigans at the onset of a book about billing. Please give it to me straight.
Indeed, that’s exactly what Dike does.
The second thing I also really liked about Dike’s book was the length. It’s only Sixty-three (63) pages long. Whoever said lawyers were wordy people? They lied. ☺
Upon delving into the book and ultimately completing it, I am happy I checked it out. Dike thinks carefully about every issue I, as a lawyer, have encountered in my, over a decade, experience practicing law. She then addresses these issues and also provides the “how. “
For example, your first reaction, especially, if you are a first year associate told by any lawyer that you can “bill smarter, and bill more” is to respond with your ethics radar going way up into the bright red.
Even if you are an experienced attorney, your heart rate still jumps up on the ethics. Why? Well, you are painfully aware that times have changed, clients are less inclined to pay inflated attorney bills; and when someone is saying “bill smarter, bill more,” you sort of think they and their message is suspect.
So Dike, you ask, what is it you mean I should “Bill smarter. Bill More?” Is that even ethical? Yes it is.
To make you and I feel incredibly comfortable, after all it is a book written by a lawyer for lawyers, right off the bat, Dike cites case law, and addresses your obligation to “bill ethically.”
“Phew!” Just exactly what you thought, right? However, billing ethically does not mean you lose a lot of money on the table that you are not accounting for, neither does it mean you spend unnecessary time fighting clients over unpaid bills, and worse suing them. If you do ever find yourself having to sue your clients, you certainly want to make sure the court can easily understand what exactly you billed for and how you billed to increase your chances of recovery.
How do you do that? Well the rest of Dike’s book is spent telling you exactly how. One of the many tips she provides in the book is one she she calls “Bill by Tasks not Segments.” My favorite line from her entire chapter on the aforementioned is the following: “Give it up. There is no clock.”
You “gotta” love a lawyer and a book by that lawyer who tells you “there is no clock.” Are you kidding me? The entire professional life of a lawyer, especially trial lawyers, is intimately integrated with the clock. Somebody tell me Dike is not here to mess with our minds?!
It turns out she is not. She explains what she means and I quote her, “(t)here is no clock. At least not in the sense that you can click “on,” start a task, finish it, then click it “off” again, like a stopwatch. It is simply impossible. As you likely know or are learning, it is a very rare day, indeed, in your practice that you have the luxury to spend six, uninterrupted minutes doing one task. It is just not going to happen. Rather, a lawyer’s day is a constant barrage of interruptions: client calls, emails, staff questions, meetings, project work which is always interrupted by client calls, emails, staff questions, etc. and the cycle continues.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Dike then goes on to show examples of what it means to bill by time versus billing by tasks.
Another great tip Dike offers in her book is to ‘Bill in Bites Not Blocks.’ Again citing and quoting case law where fee disputes have been involved among attorneys and their clients, she focuses on the importance of parsing each item in “bite size increments” that can be understood by the client; and the court should the need ever arise to petition the court for payment of your fees.
There are so many important tips in the sixty-three (63) pages of great content about billing, including an ‘Appendix,’ that has a sample ‘Motion for Leave to File Under Seal’ for your petition for attorneys fees and costs; and an affidavit. However, for purposes of this article, there are three more tips I want to share that I believe newer and experienced attorneys should be aware of before, of course, purchasing a copy of the book, which I do recommend.
The three tips are:
Bill more tasks: Okay, I am so guilty on this one. Do you bill for pulling exhibits? I honestly have not been doing that! It just seemed like the mundane thing I do as an attorney. Well, Dike had a word for me and all of you colleagues failing to bill for such “mudane things.”
Actually, let me quote her: “I am not a betting man, but I would like to wager that if you and I sat down and discussed your typical day, I could point out at least ten things you did that you did not bill for. Why? Because to you, they probably just seem like mudane things that you always do as an attorney: review and revision, checks and double checks, organization of records, hand-off instructions, etc. Just a typical part of your routine. Not billable, per se. Wrong. Ask yourself, why are you doing these things? Why? . . .”
By the way, did you know you can also bill for “thinking” about a case? “No way?!” How? Is that ethical? You’ll just have to get the book and find out for yourself and trust me you’d say, “Sheesh! Why didn’t I think of that?”
Bill in More Detail: Dike also advises to ‘Bill in More Detail.’ This I can attest to how irritating to be the recipient of a billing statement from counsel and it is so vague you have no real clue what was done. Dike encourages attorneys to bill in more detail; and provides numerous examples so there is no confusion as to her point.
Finally, her other tip and point that resonated with me and I wanted to make sure I share is to bill by guidelines.
Bill by Guidelines: Especially for the experienced lawyers among us; and even more specifically lawyer-entrepreneurs. Have you been lucky to ink a deal with an insurance firm as a client? Certainly if you have, you know the importance of billing by guidelines. Dike addresses this issue and again illustrates through examples what she really means by “billing by guidelines.”
By the way, what if you have the guidelines from your client but it appears that the guidelines short change you for work you have indeed completed and should be compensated for? How do you deal with this?
Dike, to me, does a good job of addressing this very important point and helps show you how to be compensated for work you have done that belongs to you, in the first place.
I had no expectations of the book when I picked it to review. However, I actually came off impressed. I am a lawyer-entrepreneur who has also worked as an employee from small to large firms for other firms in the past. I have experienced the various forms of billings discussed by Dike in her book. For me, Dike’s book was good to affirm some of the industry practices I continue to use; and also remind me of even better ways of operating a legal business and practicing in a profession I am very passionate about, more efficiently.
If you haven’t picked up a copy, I recommend you do.
Book Title: The Billable Hour, A Legal Practitioner’s Guide to Smarter Billing.
Author: Annie J. Dike
Publisher: Legal Lite, LLC
Purchase at Billbetter.net