billing time in a law firm

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As a lawyer, time is your most valuable asset. Therefore, billing it correctly is essential in running a successful law practice. In this article, we will outline the dos and don’ts and provide tips and tricks for billing time in a law firm.

The Importance of Time Management in a Law Firm

Proper time management and billing go hand-in-hand in a law firm. Accurately billing time ensures the firm is adequately compensated for the hours put in by the team of lawyers, paralegals, and support staff. At the same time, the particular client is only charged for work that is essential for the legal matter at hand. Poorly managed billing systems can negatively impact the financial and operational functioning of law firms.

Clients, more than ever, want transparency with billing processes. They expect to receive detailed billing statements that detail the work done, the amount of time spent, and the cost of each task. Thus, accurately tracking time ensures that clients pay only for what is necessary, and the law firm remains in good standing.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Billing Time in a Law Firm


1. Ensures Accuracy in Billing

Accurate billing prevents attorneys from overcharging or undercharging clients for their services. When you bill correctly, clients receive invoices that match the work done, resulting in a sense of fairness. Besides, proper billing ensures that law firms remain profitable while maintaining client satisfaction.

2. Encourages Discipline in Time Management

Billing time encourages lawyers to manage their time better. This system requires a lawyer to evaluate and track the amount of time it takes to work on a case. With this, lawyers learn to efficiently manage their time, ensuring that they can attend to other cases and other responsibilities quickly, resulting in improved productivity.

3. Great Management Tool

Billing time is an excellent management tool. When you track the time spent on each task, it becomes easier to determine each lawyer’s productivity and efficiency. This information is useful when assessing the profitability of each matter and making future business decisions.


1. Can Result in Ethical Issues

Billing time can result in ethical issues when attorneys are pressured to bill as many hours as possible. Occasionally, lawyers might bill for time not genuinely spent on a particular case, causing inflated costs for the client, leaving them unsatisfied.

2. Can Contribute to Employee Burnout

Billing time can create pressure for lawyers, forcing them to work long hours and continuously bill for everything they do. Constant clock-watching can cause burnout, which can affect their quality of work and, ultimately, the reputation of the firm.

3. Can Discourage Creativity and Innovation

Billing time can discourage creative thinking and innovation. This strategy often results in attorneys putting more effort into completing tasks quickly, instead of looking for creative solutions to complex legal problems that could save the firm money.

The Time-Tracking Method

When billing time, keeping track of it with a reliable method is crucial. Below are some practical, time-tracking methods that law firms rely on:

Method Description
Electronic Timekeeping This is the most common method used in law firms today – it involves using electronic software to track the time spent by attorneys and staff members on specific matters. This method is easy to use and ensures accuracy when billing clients.
Manual Timekeeping Manual timekeeping involves documenting time spent on each task manually using pen and paper or a spreadsheet. While it’s cheaper than electronic timekeeping, it’s time-consuming and prone to errors.
Flat Fee Billing Under this method, the client pays a fixed amount for the matter’s entire legal services. This method is advantageous for clients who prefer predictability when budgeting for legal expenses, but it might not be as profitable for a law firm as the hourly billing method.

FAQs – Everything You Need to Know about Billing Time in a Law Firm

1. What is the hourly rate for attorneys at a law firm?

Hourly rates differ significantly depending on where the law firm is based, the attorney’s experience, and the specific matter being handled. Rates range from $100/hr to $1000/hr, with the average hourly rate ranging from $200/hr to $400/hr. Law firms usually charge more for specialized services.

2. What is a legal project management software?

Legal project management software is a specialized software suite that simplifies the complexities of managing legal projects, from budgeting to goals setting.

3. Is there a maximum number of hours an attorney can bill for a client in a day?

There is no restriction to the number of hours an attorney can bill a client. However, most law firm policies contain billable hour goals for each attorney to follow, ensuring they are meeting the firm’s expectations.

4. What is a retainer agreement, and how does it work?

A retainer agreement is a contract between a client and a law firm where the client retains the services of the firm for a particular time and purpose. The client pays the law firm a retainer, a lump sum amount, to be billed against the hourly rate as the lawyers carry out the legal services.

5. Can a law firm refuse to work on a case based on a client’s refusal to pay hourly rates?

Yes, a law firm can refuse to work on a case based on a client’s refusal to pay hourly rates. Law firms have costs that they need to cover, and if clients are unwilling to pay for the firm’s services, it’s advisable to decline the case.

6. How can an attorney bill for expenses incurred during legal work?

Generally, attorneys bill clients separately for expenses incurred during legal work. However, it’s advisable to ensure that the expenses are necessary and reasonable and that the client is aware of them before billing.

7. Do law firms bill for travel time in between legal work?

Yes, law firms typically bill for travel time in between legal work. However, it’s advisable to ensure that the time spent is necessary and reasonable.

8. Can a law firm bill for overtime work?

Yes, a law firm can charge for overtime work. However, it’s necessary to disclose the overtime charges and to agree on the hourly rate with the client beforehand.

9. What are minimum billable increments for law firms?

Generally, the minimum billable increments for law firms are 0.1 or 0.2 hours. This means that any task that takes less than that amount of time cannot be billed separately.

10. Can a law firm send interim bills to clients?

Yes, law firms can send interim bills to clients showing the work done and expenses incurred. These bills exclude on-going works that may take longer and give clients insight into the amount to budget for legal services.

11. Can a law firm bill for drafting and revising legal documents?

Yes, law firms can bill for drafting and re-examining legal documents as they consume professional time and involve specific expertise.

12. What is fee-shifting, and when can attorneys bill for it?

Fee-shifting refers to a legal provision that permits winning parties in a lawsuit to recover attorney fees and expenses from the losing parties. Attorneys can bill for fee-shifting if the prevailing party wants to recover attorney fees and there is a contractual agreement that allows the recovery of the cost.

13. What is a billable hour adjustment?

A billable hour adjustment refers to an attorney’s modification of the time-to-work ratio based on the type of legal work they perform. For example, they may increase it when performing more reviews, drafting, and legal research instead of other legal works that don’t need such knowledge and training.


Accurately billing time is crucial for any law firm. It helps to build client trust, ensures law firms remain profitable, and encourages better time management techniques. We have discussed the strengths and weaknesses of billing time and practical methods for tracking time. Do not hesitate to contact us if you require further assistance in billing time.

We hope you found this article informative and that it helped you understand how to bill time in a law firm. Take action today, and ensure your law firm’s billing system is operating accurately and efficiently.

Closing Words

Legal billing is a vital aspect of running a successful law firm. Integrated law firm billing software with appropriate training for staff will make it much easier. Always ensure billing practices align with ethical principles and that clients transparently communicate all charges. The primary takeaway is simple: billing time should be neither too low nor too high, nor should it be overbilling by exploiting the client. Instead, a reasonable approach should ensure that clients are fairly billed and the law firm is appropriately compensated.


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