Biglaw, Billable Hours, Lexis-Nexis, LexisNexis / Lexis-Nexis, Small Law Firms, Wall Street Journal

Size Matters: Billing Sucks, But Small-Firm Lawyers Need To Do It Better

In my humble opinion, there is nothing worse than billing time. Just think of the feeling you get when you’ve spent a day doing a million random tasks in your sad beige office, and you have no ten-minute entries to account for that day (i.e., you get no credit for a day spent at work doing work things). Not only is billing a pain, the practice of accounting for your time is even worse. While I was no better at it when I was at my Biglaw firm than at the small firm, the former had some software that would send me mean emails if I did not get my hours in on time. Oh, and there were scarier partners that would come after if me if I had a delinquent time report.

At the small firm, on the other hand, I was instructed to fill out time entries by hand, give them to my assistant to type into a billing program, review the print-out of the hours inputted by my assistant, and then send them off to the partner to review and approve.

I was less efficient at billing at the small firm than at my Biglaw firm. Not only did I lose precious ten-minute increments working with my assistant to bill hours, but I also worked on a minimum of four matters, and switching between matters meant less efficiency. And I suppose there are other things people do at small firms that they cannot bill for — like go get business or something?

Apparently, I am not the only small-firm attorney with a problem with billing efficiency. According to a LexisNexis survey, larger law firms dominate small firms in this area.


Bigger law firms often have armies of support staff and sophisticated billing systems that boost efficiency and let “attorneys be attorneys,” said Loretta Ruppert, senior director of community management for LexisNexis Legal and Professional. “But at the smaller end of law, they typically wear multiple hats.”

Not all small firms are created equal, however. The study revealed that firms of 11 to 20 lawyers were more effective than any other firm size group, according to the survey, billing 92% of hours worked. Conversely, solo and two-attorney firms overall billed 39%.

What can small firms do to improve billing efficiency? It takes two others for me to bill my hours, so I am not the one to ask. Indeed, I am pretty sure this is the start of a joke that ends with multiple people screwing in a light bulb. So, I ask you, small-firm efficient billers — email me with your thoughts.

Billing Efficiency Survey: Delaware on Top, Oregon Dead Last [WSJ Law Blog]

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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