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LIV President's Blog 2012

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How to meet your billable hours target

How to meet your billable hours target

With the 2011/12 End of Financial Year (EFY) now just behind us, it's a good time to take stock of how we are faring in meeting the targets set by our employers. One of those targets – perhaps the most important of all – is the billable hour target. 

Understanding your budget and targets can take some time – it's not as simple as "you must make $XXXX for the year."  Rather, we all have a series of targets – these include raw billable hour targets, a production target, and a recovery target.  While at the junior level it is often hard to control your ability to meet these targets, having spoken with peers, partners, and learning and development, I think there are a few simple points to take note of.

1. Understand your budget
Simple enough – but it is surprising how many of us don't understand our budgets and instead whisper and rumour amongst ourselves. If you are finding yourself engrossed in 'target' gossip – stop! Go and speak with your partner, and also speak to learning and development – you'll find that they will usually be happy to give you a training session on what your budget means, and what parameters are acceptable.

2. Set SMART goals
I've never been much of a 'formal' goal setter – but when it comes to meeting budgets and targets, I have personally found that a formal goal setting and reviewing process helps keep me on track. SMART means the goal ought to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable.  Choosing the goal is the trick. If you simply write down "my goal is to exceed my budget" you are unlikely to give yourself much of a chance!  You need to unpack that goal.  What is my budget?  What are the elements of my budget that I can control, and what are the elements that are out of my control? What areas of my budget do I already meet, and where do I need to improve? This usually means seeking and listening to feedback – because where you think you need to improve and where your firm thinks you need to improve can be worlds apart.

3. Stick to the goal
So, you now understand that your recovery budget is 90% of hours billed (for example). Of course, we all want to recover our billings, but often there is little we can do to control how much of our time is written off (due to the work of a junior often being non-chargeable). So is increasing your recovery rate a good goal?  While it might be specific, and measurable, it may not be attainable or particularly relevant – ask your partner, is it what you should be focused on right now at this stage in your career?

"Perhaps you should set a reminder for 12.55pm each day to jot down how many hours you have billed in the day and how many more you need before you head home."

Let's be more realistic. Hypothetically, let's say you discover that the target is 6.5 billable hours per day. You set your goal – realistic and attainable - to get within 95% of that target.  How are you going to measure it?  Perhaps you should set a reminder for 12.55pm each day to jot down how many hours you have billed in the day and how many more you need before you head home.  This is a good start – you might not stick to it, but you'll stay focused.  Then ask, what do I need to do to ensure work comes my way? If it's all quiet on the western front, set a rule that you will let colleagues know that you have "capacity".  Finally, let's make sure that you track your progress at the end of each week – set up another reminder that pops up before you head to Friday night drinks, requiring you to jot down how many hours you recorded for the week.

I applied this method.  While it might not have always worked, at EFY, I was happy with my progress. The reward for meeting your goal comes from within – you set the goal, you stuck to it, you achieved it.  It might be hard to put a positive spin on billable hours, but taking the mystique out of them, and setting trackable goals to meet them, is a way to manage the anxiety and stress that they can otherwise cause.

What methods do you use to ensure you meet your billable hours target? I'd love to hear your tips! 

Cal Viney
Vice President
LIV Young Lawyers

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Ana Percic
Great blog, my tip is definitely to keep an eye on yourself. I try to get 3 billable hours before lunch - so I'm watching it every day! And definitely capture your time accurately: if you don't need to do something to progress your client's matter, you don't do it. If you do, then you bill it.
Young lawyers have a tendency to discount their time because they think they 'should have done it quicker' but that is taken into account in your hourly rate. So if you can justify doing a thing, then make sure you capture the time.
20/09/2012 3:27:16 PM

Kit Walker
Cal, excellent work.

This blog has the potential to help anyone who battles the billable unit, and see them WIN! I hope you make your budget in 2012/13

Cheers, Kit
13/07/2012 5:35:56 PM

Amanda Storey
Great post Cal. Achieving consistent billables has always been an ongoing challenge for me. Sometimes I get 7 hours easily, other days it seems like a struggle to get 5 hours.

In a performance review, my partner suggested that I write down everything I do for a full day (even bathroom breaks, personal emails, chatting with colleagues) so I could fully account for my day. I learned that I had "lost" a lot of billables because I wasn't properly capturing my time. Sometimes it's not just working harder but ensuring that you're being fully credited for all the work you have done. Also I learned that there was a correlation between being tired and low billables, which is kind of obvious now I think about it.

My partner also told me - if you don't have 3 billable hours by the time you have your lunchbreak, you're going to be at work for a long time, which is generally true (if you have a 6.5 hour standard).
13/07/2012 5:20:55 PM

Cam Forbes
Cal, these are really good tips - particularly the SMART goals comment. I find the 'measuarable' element of the goal the most critical one because if I cannot measure my goal I don't know how successful I have been in implementing it. Cheers
13/07/2012 9:43:51 AM

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