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Let’s go back to Lesson No. 1 on billable hours. Remember how we explained that most firms bill in minimum increments of six minutes? Let’s look at example of that in action.

John Doe has hired a lawyer for his divorce. John’s lawyer charges $250.00 plus HST per hour. This means that the end cost to John is $287.50 per hour if he lives in New Brunswick and is charged 15% HST. Ouch!!!!

John calls his lawyer’s office at 9:00 a.m. sharp. He asks to speak to the lawyer to get an update on the file. The lawyer takes his call and they chat for 60 seconds where the lawyer reassures him that his Divorce Petition has been couriered to the courthouse.

John then realizes that he had another question for his lawyer that he forgot to ask so at 10:30 a.m., so he sends his lawyer an email to ask when the lawyer expects the Divorce Petition to be served on his spouse. His lawyer takes two minutes to respond to the email. John has a third question arising from his lawyer’s answer and sends a follow-up email at noon asking how the Divorce Petition will be served on his spouse. His lawyer takes three minutes and sends a response.

How much is John getting billed?

In John’s head, he might think that he is getting billed six minutes (one minute for the phone call at 9:00 a.m. plus two minutes for the email at 10:30 a.m. plus three minutes for the follow-up email at noon) and figures that his activities for the day will get him a bill from the lawyer for $287.50 x 0.1hrs = $28.75.

However, John’s lawyer is likely charging him in minimum increments of six minutes each time he touches the file. So John is likely getting billed eighteen minutes (six minutes for the one minute phone call at 9:00 a.m., another six minutes for the email at 10:30 a.m., plus another six minutes for the email at noon) for a grand total of $287.50 x 0.3hrs = $86.25. That’s $57.50 higher than what John was thinking he may have ran up.

Why has this happened? Each time John calls or emails, his lawyer is stopping what he is working on, hauling out the file, dealing with John’s questions, making the appropriate notes of the discussion, and putting the file away. Those six minutes of distractions over a longer period of time legitimately take about 18 minutes of the lawyer’s time when you consider the other activities that go along with contact. That’s why most firms charge a minimum increment of six minutes.

So what is the strategy John should use to save money? The easiest thing to do is for John to collect his thoughts and make a list of questions he would like answered before making contact with the law office. That way, he could have likely had all of his questions answered during his initial telephone call and possibly done it in six minutes or under to make sure he escaped with the minimum charge of $28.75.