Paralegal Billing

For most of us, billing is a necessary evil.  I have worked with enough paralegals to know that if they could get rid of one task in their day to day work life, it would be billing.  However, I think that it does not have to be that bad. 

When training new paralegals in billing procedures, I use the same advice that was given to me by one of my mentors.  I hope it will help you better understand billing and make you more comfortable when faced with that blank timesheet. 

  1. Keep accurate time;
  2. What, whom and why???????

Keep Accurate Time

It is very important to keep accurate time.  We all fall into the trap, at times, to “cut” our own time. 

I remember when I started, I did not want to give the partners or my immediate attorney the impression that I did not know what I was doing.  Therefore, I felt it was better if I gave them the impression that I was completing my tasks faster than the paralegal down the hall.  It did not matter that the paralegal down the hall had more experience and had been handling the same type of cases for much longer than I.  The only thing that mattered to me was that I was faster.  I was working almost ten hour days and only billing for seven.  Eventually I burned out.  Some days I was so tired I could barely do my seven hours.

Today, I try to get accross to the paralegals in my training seminars that it does not matter how long it takes you to get the work done.  Ok….. yes, there are time when it does matter.  For example, if it takes you a full day to read a two paragraph letter.  Most of the time it does not matter how long it takes you to complete a task.  If the partner responsbile for the file does not want to bill client the total amount of hours that it took to complete the task, it is the partner’s responsibility to adjust the time and not bill the client.  Time often gets written off in law firms.  Most of the time it is no one’s fault.  It just happens.   Additionally, there are other benefits of keeping accurate time.  By keeping accurate time, the paralegal is assisting the firm in making staffing decisions.  Maybe the project is better suited for a team of paralegals instead of one paralegal.  By looking at the amount of time billed on a particular project, the attorney can make recommendations on staffing for the department and the firm can make budget decisions.  Further, by allowing the firm to see how much time you are billing and how much work you are doing, your chances of a good bonus and a good raise may increase.   

What, Whom and Why???????

What does this mean???? Sometimes billing descriptions can be so frustrating.  I remember sitting in front of a blank timesheet and not having a clue as to what to say?  Until that one mentor I mentioned above said those three words to me. 

When you are billing you are basically telling a story.  You are telling the client, the person that is paying for the bill, that you did something you think is worth “X” amount of dollars and you expect to be paid for it.  But that is all that the client has to go on.  Now, if you were faced with a billing entry in the amount of $500.00 which only said “review documents.”  Would you pay for that?  If I were going to pay that bill I would want to know a little more about what had been done.  If you answer the three questions, you will be providing the client with all the information he/she needs. 

What?  What did you do?  Whom?  To whom did you write the letter, make the phone call?  Prepare the memo?  Why? Why did you take the time to do that?  Is discovery ending?  Are you trying to find out more information in order to answer discovery?  Is there a trial date?  Did your adversary ask you for more information? 

Remember that the more time you spend on a task the more specific you need to be.  Think of it in terms of money.  The client wants to see content.  Most of the time they will not contest the bill if they know what they are paying for. 

24 thoughts on “Paralegal Billing

  1. Hi

    I’m a newbie to your blog. This is the first article i have read and it’s excellent. Thanks for all the pointers. I think many paralegals can benefit from this advice. Thanks for sharing this information and keep the great articles coming!

    Best Regards

  2. Do you know where I can find a good “list” of some of the phrasing that paralegals use? For instance “assemble documents” , etc.


  3. Stay tuned. I am preparing an entry to my blog with some samples of billing entries that I used and were well accepted. I expect to have it posted this Sunday.

    Thank you very much for your interest. I hope to continue hearing from you and receive your support.

    Ana P.

  4. Interesting blog!

    My question, as a legal assistant in training, is knowing how to bill. Some tasks take only small amounts of time and yet I’m still expecting to bill for my entire day? The seasoned paralegal in my office had tips like “if a client is difficult, i bill more.” How is that possible? Our billing increments are .2 hrs, etc.

    I don’t know if I’m being clear, but I wouldn’t mind billing if I just knew that I was being fair and not “padding”, so to speak.

  5. I have run into the same problem in my office where it is expected that I am billing all day long, but I don’t have the work to take up all that time. I have heard of other people adding bits of time here and there to their entries. I am not sure how to handle this.

  6. It is true that paralegals as well as attorneys are expected to bill for a full day. However, it is also expected that you are honest in your billing. As I stated in my post it is important to be as accurate as possible when billing your time.

    Jenny commented that she “… heard of people adding bits of time here and there…” this sounds like “bill padding” and it is unethical.

    I am sure your office has a “non-billable” number where you can bill the time cannot bill to a client file. You may want to contact your supervisor, or the attorney you report to, and let him/her know that you do not feel you have enough billable work. Keep billing your non-billable time to non-billable numbers so that you can at least have something showing that you are working and not just “surfing the net.”

    We all perform non-billable tasks. For example, making copies, delivering the mail to the mail room, walking over to the file room to pick up a file, trying to locate a lost file (this doesn’t really happen in law firms does it?), and we are all guilty of taking one too many coffee breaks. There are also times when a new paralegal does not know what can actually be billed to a client.

    Here are some examples:

    1. If you are putting exhibits together for a big production, that work is billable…. Talk to a supervisor at your firm but normally you can bill as “…. review, analyze and organize ……” or “review and analysis of….”
    2. If you are sending out medical authorizations, you first have to review the answers to discovery (interrogatories or document productions) so you can bill for the review of the documents and the analysis of the documents.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you need further help.

    Please note that my advice is only that. Before you take any action, I strongly suggest you speak with your attorney and/or your supervisor regarding these or any issues in this blog. Each law office is different as is each retainer agreement.

    Thank you for reading my blog.

  7. I am struggling with how to bill time on the weekend while out of town for a trial. I am not free to travek home. I fully expect that an atttorney could email me at any moment with a request. During the down time, I worked out, grabbed lunch etc. How do I bill my time? On one hand I feel I am on call and should bill for the hours I have made myself available (8 – 6). Especially, since I felt I could not make any advance plans because I was waiting for possible intruction from the attorneys I am working with. On the other hand I feel like I did not literally work that entire time. What do you think?

  8. Each firm is different. In your case I suggest you talk to the attorney and explain your situation. I have qorked in firms that pay for the entire day (40 hours) no matter what it is I’m doing. They even reimburse for meals if I’m away from home. However, there are firms that only pay for hours worked. The only thing I can suggest is to not assume anything and before you enter your time make sure it is something you can bill for. Some firms have non-billable numbers you can use. Also is there other work you can do during the “down time”? Don’t double bill but you can work on other files and bill for that time. Be really careful when doing that though, double billing is unethical and will get you in trouble.

    I completely understand your point thought and that is why you need to find all that out prior to entering your time.

    Great job though. Going out to trial with the attorney is a great accomplishment and I shows that your firm is very pro-paralegal. Keep us posted on what happens. We would love to hear.

    1. I’m so sorry for taking so long. I have been away from the blog due to some unforeseen circumstances. I believe I did post some billing information. However, if that post does not answer my questions, please feel free to email me with a specific question and I will certainly help you. Each case is different so there may be something we can come up with together that will help.

      Please keep posting and keep checking. There are a lot of new things coming soon.

      The Paralegal.

  9. I have an issue with one billing entry. When our firm receives a new file from the insurance carrier, they often send the entire file on a CD. Once the CD is received by my office the paralegal is responislbe for retrieving all of the material on the CD and then analyzing and organize the documents and prepare the file for the attorney. I can’t quite come up with a good entry to bill for it. I asked my attorney and she told me to make something up and she will revise the entry before it goes to the carrier. I would rather have an entry and use it instead of making something up. Can you give me any ideas?

    Kind regard,


    1. When I get a new file in from the insurance company I use this billing entry Abstracting file, review summons and complaint to determine time frame to answer and assess damages to assist attorney with developing defense strategy”

  10. Great blog! I am a new junior paralegal and learning how to enter time. Believe me, this has been the most difficult task. I would love to see the list of phrases for billable work. I always have problems with the language on billing.


    1. I’m not sure what you mean by a list of phrases. Each job is different. Can you give me an example? What type of law do you practice? Also, there are times when what your bill says is dependent on what the client has agreed to pay or for what services the client has contracted the firm to perform. Can you give me a little bit more information? I will try to be more responsive. Sorry if this doesn’t help you much.

      1. A frequent problem I have with regard to billing is assisting with trial preparation. For at least two weeks it is very fast paced with no down time. By the end of each day, I’ve only written down a few specific terms. I just want to write a flat “trial preparation” but of course that’s not acceptable. The attorneys are barking out orders with no thought as to whether it is a billable paralegal task or administrative and non billable. It doesn’t matter, until it’s time to review the bill. Any advice?

  11. how does the billing cycle work? i am studying to be a legal secretary but need more information about the billing.

    1. normally the billing cycle works on a monthly basis. So from the beginning of the month to the end of the month. However, I’m sure that depends on the law firm at which you’re working as well as the agreement with the client. The paralegal normally enters his/her time on a monthly basis and the rest is up to the accounting department and the partners responsible for the file. I hope this answers your question. If not, please feel free to email me again and I’ll try to get to you much sooner than this time. I’m so sorry for the delay in the response.

  12. Billing is like an art form as it takes time to learn how to word billing entries so the client knows what service we are providing them. Billing time has always been a headache for me, so over the years I have created my own list of billable verbiage I have “perfected” for the repetitive tasks I normally perform as a litigation paralegal. A couple of examples of my billing verbiage:

    for summarizing medical records: “review, analyze, and summarize medical records received from University Hospital for dates of service 1996 to present date re: plaintiff, Jane Doe”

    talking to experts: “telephone conference with Dr. Smith regarding his expert opinions of his review of the deposition of Plaintiff’s cardiology expert, Dr. Lee”

    review file: “review file to determine status of case and what tasks need to be accomplished before trial”

    talking to opposing counsel: “discussion with attorney Smith re: setting up the depositions of all experts before mediation in July.

    Those are just some broad examples of billing verbiage on my list I created, and I am always tweaking and adding to my list to fit different circumstances, etc. Just my two cents on billing 🙂

    By the way, I love your blog. Very informative! Stephanie

  13. I agree with Stephanie.. billing is truly an art form, and a hard one to master! I also totally understand Azita’s quandry about what you actually do vs what you write down on paper. I, too, would love a cheat sheet for my time entries. I have learned a few.. such as when I review a file, pull out records, walk to copy room, run the records thru the copier and Bates stamp, then attach them to a finalized Motion or discovery responses, etc., I can’t very well state that.. so I write down, “Locate, identify and prepare exhibits for attachment to”..whatever that pleading is. But I am always searching for proper terms that billing review companies won’t kick back.
    Can someone help with this?

  14. This design is wicked! You obviously know how to keep a reader amused.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
    start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.

    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you
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    1. Thank you so much. I’ve been gone for a while but I’m seriously considering coming back. I hope you come back to read the blog and enjoy.


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