What are billable hours for a paralegal?

What Are Billable Hours For A Paralegal
What are billable hours for paralegals? The distinction between billable hours and non-billable hours is critical.

Billable hours and non-billable hours. Most people outside the legal world don’t know the difference between the two, but for those who work in law firms, the distinction is critical.

Many law firms have minimum billable hour requirements, somewhere between 1,800 and 2,200 hours per year for first-year associates, according to the National Law Review. But how many actual working hours does it take to amass this amount of billable hours?

The burden of billable hours

According to the Yale Law School Career Development Office, in order to reach 1,800 annual billable hours, an associate would need to work their regular hours each week plus an extra 20 minutes Monday through Friday (for a total of 2,430 hours per year) to generate 1,832 billable hours.

If they were to work one Saturday each month from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., they would end up with around 1,834 billable hours – even though they would have actually worked 2,434 hours.

This makes the substantive legal work performed by non-attorneys even more critical.

The ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services states that a lawyer may include a charge for the substantive legal work performed by a paralegal.

Some law firms establish how many billable hours paralegals are expected to produce, which might fall somewhere between as low as 800 to over 2,000 hours per year.

Allowing for vacations and holidays, this breaks down to a minimum of 37 billable hours per week. Thus, assuming that a paralegal works a standard 40-hour week, this leaves only three hours per week for non-billable activities.

How many billable hours does a paralegal work?

The number of billable hours that a paralegal can accumulate in a year can vary widely based on several factors, including the specific job requirements, work environment, and billing practices of the law firm or organization.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Full-time vs. part-time: The number of billable hours will depend on whether the paralegal works full-time or part-time. A full-time paralegal typically works around 35 to 40 hours per week, while part-time hours can vary.
  • Billing expectations: Different law firms may have different billing expectations for paralegals. Some firms may expect paralegals to achieve a specific target number of billable hours, while others may not have strict requirements.
  • Firm culture and practice area: The billing practices and culture of the law firm, as well as the specific practice area, can influence the number of billable hours. For example, litigation-focused firms may have higher billable hour requirements compared to transactional or corporate law firms.
  • Efficiency and workload: The individual paralegal’s efficiency, organization, and workload management skills can impact the number of billable hours they can accumulate. Paralegals who can work efficiently and effectively may be able to handle more billable tasks within a given timeframe.
  • Non-billable time: Paralegals also have non-billable responsibilities, such as administrative tasks, professional development, internal meetings, and vacation time. These non-billable hours are typically accounted for separately and are not included in the billable hour target.

It’s important to note that there is no standard or set number of billable hours for paralegals across the industry.

The expectations can vary significantly depending on the factors mentioned above. It’s best to check with the specific law firm or organization to understand their billing requirements and expectations for paralegals.

Typical minimum billable hours for paralegals

The typical minimum billable hours requirement for paralegals in law firms can vary depending on several factors like what we’ve mentioned above.

It’s important to note that there is no standard or universally applicable minimum billable hours requirement across all law firms. However, I can provide a general range based on industry practices:

  • Small to mid-sized law firms: In smaller or mid-sized law firms, the minimum billable hours expectation for paralegals may range from 1,200 to 1,800 billable hours per year. This means that paralegals are expected to spend a certain number of hours on billable tasks for clients.
  • Large law firms: In larger law firms, the minimum billable hours expectation for paralegals is typically higher due to the greater volume of work and higher client demands. The range can vary from 1,800 to 2,400 billable hours per year.

It’s worth noting that these figures are general guidelines and can vary significantly depending on the specific law firm, its practice area, and the location.

Some law firms may have higher or lower billable hour expectations based on their clients, the complexity of cases, or the billing rates charged by the firm.

What paralegal work is billable?

According to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, “purely clerical or secretarial tasks should not be billed to the client at a paralegal rate, no matter who performs them.”

For the most part, courts around the country have ruled that clerical tasks like typing, organizing files, searching PACER, and eFiling documents are not billable but should instead be considered part of the firm’s overhead.

Generally, for a paralegal’s work to be billable, it must:

  • Be legal in nature
  • Be completed by a professional who possesses the proper education, training, or work experience
  • Due to its complexity, would otherwise have required the services of an attorney

However, many law firms and attorneys struggle when defining the exact tasks that can be billed to the client when they are completed by a paralegal.

According to the National Federation of Paralegal Association, a paralegal may “perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.”

Billable paralegal work commonly includes:

  • Legal research: Conducting research on case law, statutes, regulations, and other legal resources to support the attorney’s legal arguments or provide relevant information for a case.
  • Document drafting: Assisting in the preparation and drafting of legal documents such as contracts, agreements, pleadings, motions, and briefs.
  • Case management: Organizing and managing case files, including reviewing and summarizing documents, maintaining case calendars, and coordinating with clients, opposing counsel, and courts.
  • Client communication: Interacting with clients to gather information, provide updates on case progress, and answer their legal inquiries.
  • Discovery support: Assisting with the discovery process, including document collection, review, and organization, as well as preparing responses to discovery requests.
  • Trial preparation: Assisting attorneys in preparing for trial, which may involve witness interviews, document analysis, exhibit preparation, and assembling trial binders.
  • Legal administrative tasks: Some law firms consider certain administrative tasks, such as preparing billing statements, time entry, and file organization, as billable hours.

While non-billable clerical tasks like making copies, filing, fulfilling service requirements, issuing subpoenas, and filling out court forms are routinely performed by paralegals, their time can usually be better spent in the performance of substantive (billable) legal work.

When the majority of a paralegal’s work is billable, this will subsequently lighten the attorney’s workload, keep the clerical staff busy, and provide tangible cost savings for the client because paralegals bill at a lower rate than attorneys.

Using a billable hours chart for paralegals

A billable hours chart for paralegal work is a visual representation of the number of hours worked by an employee or contractor that can be billed to clients.

It typically includes information such as the date, the employee or contractor name, the client or project name, and the number of billable hours worked.

We’ve included a sample here to help you calculate your billable hours in a simple way.

Hour incrementTime worked
0.11-6 minutes
0.27-12 minutes
0.313-18 minutes
0.419-24 minutes
0.525-30 minutes
0.631-36 minutes
0.737-42 minutes
0.843-48 minutes
0.949-54 minutes
1.055-60 minutes

For managers that are dealing with several employees and need to track billable hours, we’d suggest using a billable hours chart that resembles something like this:

DateEmployeeClientBillable hours
2024-02-16John DoeClient X3
2024-02-17Jane SmithClient Y6
2024-02-19John DoeClient Z7
2024-02-19Jane SmithClient X6
2024-02-20John DoeClient Y2
2024-02-21Jane SmithClient Z14
2024-02-21John DoeClient X5
2024-02-21Jane SmithClient Y11
2024-02-22John DoeClient Z10
2024-02-22Jane SmithClient X8

Billable hours and the state of the legal market

Since the recession of the late 2000s, clients have been putting greater pressure on law firms to reduce costs and alter their billing practices.

More and more legal consumers are requesting flat fee arrangements rather than agreeing to be billed by the hour, and as a result, attorneys are now billing fewer hours than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Additionally, consumer appetite for

But non-billable time ultimately cuts into the firm’s bottom line, and the financial health of many law firms still depends not only on how many hours the attorneys are billing but also on how many billable hours the firm’s paralegals are generating.

Therefore, it stands to reason that the more billable hours a paralegal produces, the better their chances to score a higher salary, or at least to make a stronger case for a pay raise.

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