For the longest time only quantum physicists observing special relativity, and judges (see, e.g., Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §473) could enlarge time. Not to be left out of the fun, lawyers invented the “minimum billing increment”, i.e. the smallest unit of billable time to be charged for a work task. Boilerplate engagement letters with white shoe (and laughably not-so-white-shoe) firms tend, these days, to peg the minimum increment at one quarter of an hour. We say boilerplate because we have never had a firm refuse to reduce this increment to the more reasonable (albeit just as arbitrary) one tenth of an hour.
The minimum increment makes hitting your billable hours “target” a piece of cake. For example, here are some actual “tasks” and their corresponding “billing-speak” time entries on on the invoice:Read 3-line email I was cc:’d on for Client A.
Review correspondence regarding revised communications protocol: 0.25 hrsLeave voice mail for Client B saying “I’m returning your call.”
Prepare for and participate in telephone conference to client: 0.25 hrsReply to Client C’s email asking to re-send my email from yesterday.
Review correspondence from client regarding advice concerning matter X; review recommendations and prepare correspondence to client: 0.25 hrsTell paralegal to get back to work on depo summary for Client D.
Conference with legal assistant regarding analysis and completion deposition summary for Smith v. Jones: 0.25 hrsTell colleague that you need to talk to her about Client A’s email.
Conference with M. Poppins re: client’s request to analyze legal issues in development of third party liability theories: 0.25 hrsCorrect misspelled name of Client E in letter and hand back to secretary.
Review and revise correspondence to client concerning reverse triangular merger restrictions in connection with Project Q: 0.25 hrs
Now, assuming all of this really consumed only 20 minutes of actual working time, 90 minutes of billable time creates some nice leverage, no? In an age of computer accuracy to the one quintillionth of a second, we think there’s an opportunity for a bit more truth in billing.