Paralegal Math in Billable Hours: When 88 = 57 (or is it really 14?)

 Can you believe it’s already October? The past 9 months have just flown by! How are you doing with your billable hour goals? It’s time to focus on reaching those goals by the end of the year.  
How much time do you really have to do that? The calendar shows you have 88 days remaining in 2010 to reach those goals…or do you? Let’s see how 88 calendar days actually translates to the amount of time you really have to reach your billable hour goals:
First, let’s make some assumptions:
  • You’re a paralegal who considers herself/himself to be quite productive on a daily basis. (Note that “productive” means getting the RIGHT things done…it does not mean that you’re “busy”…we’re all busy!)
  • You don’t work the equivalent of 4 weekends per month.
Next, consider that you’re starting on Monday, October 4th with 88 days…now subtract:
  • 8 days (4 weekends) for October
  • 8 days (4 weekends) for November
  • 8 days (4 weekends) for December
Now you’re down to 64 days! But what about the holidays?
  • Thanksgiving (in the US) = two days for prepping and enjoying family
  • December holidays = average of 5 days for preparation, shopping, celebrating, visiting etc.
Now you’re down to 57 days. Still, there’s more to consider:
  • Will you be attending any conferences or workshops? You should deduct that time, plus travel and before/after preparation/packing time…and if you’re in charge of the workshop or conference, there’s even more time to deduct.
  • Will you take any additional vacation time between now and January 31st? You should deduct that.
  • Do you need a day to just “chill”? Another deduction!
  • “Don’t feel like entering your time today”? Take another deduction for time you’ll lose because you won’t remember what you did.
  • “Always searching for a file or document”? It doesn’t matter if you lost it, it was your boss, or a co-worker…this takes time away from your billable work. Deduct time wasted on the endless search.
  • “Constant interruptions”? Deduct more time if a co-worker constantly roosts in your office to discuss his or her personal problems…and even more if your boss is always interrupting you with more work before you can finish what he gave you ten minutes ago.
And remember that “57 days” is not actually “57 days”. You probably work 8 hours a day (if more or less, you will have to re-calculate the following) but it is impossible to do productive billable work for the entire 8 hours. Studies have shown that for every billable hour logged, there’s 20-30 minutes of non-billable time spent.
So, is it realistic to have a goal of 8 or even 10 billable hours a day? Not unless you’re willing to work 13 to 15 hours a day. You are most likely truly productive for a maximum of 6 hours per day. So the actual number of days you have to reach your billable hour goals in 2010 is actually only 14…two weeks! Really? Possibly…consider the following: If you bill 6 hours per day, multiplied by 57 days = 342 hours ? 24 in each day = 14 days!
This assumes you don’t have to deduct more time for the things listed above or for anything else.
Now, knowing that you have roughly 14 full days before the end of the year, what steps are you going to take to reach your billable hour goals? It may be time to hunker down and make some extra effort. Here are a few tips:
Minimize interruptions: When someone comes into your office, don’t ask “How are you?”…instead ask “What can I do for you?” and get right to the point.
Delegate as much as you can, especially if the work is non-billable. Don’t volunteer for non-billable work. Billing professionals should be doing only billable work.
Focus on the work that will give you the most billable time…for instance, summarizing depositions will provide a good chunk of billable time.
Use your peak productivity time to your advantage. Do the work that requires the most concentration when you have the most energy
Chunk your time so that you do shorter tasks, such as returning phone calls or answering email, during one period of time instead of interrupting yourself all day doing them one at a time.
Enter your time throughout the day. When you don’t enter your time as you do you work, you can lose up to 20% of your billable time. If you can’t enter your time as you go, be sure to keep careful notes and enter it before you leave the office in the evening. Never think that you’ll remember what you did later.

Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at

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