Guest Karen Tuschak is founder and CEO of Spider Silk Innovative Solutions Inc., a company focused on...
Tony is the Paralegal Manager at MANNING & KASS where he manages paralegals at all 7 offices nationwide. He is the...
Jill I. Francisco, ACP, received her BA in Criminal Justice, (concentration in Legal Studies), from Marshall University...
Let’s talk about the art, and science, of billing. We’ll go ahead and say it, billing isn’t fun, but it’s crucial to the success of your law firm. And tracking many of those billable hours often falls on paralegal professionals. Getting work done is important, getting paid for that work is crucial.
You aren’t alone. Everybody hates billing. Tracking your time and entering it into your system isn’t natural, and maybe it’s not even taught. But you can get better at this, make it part of your daily routine.
Guest Karen Tuschak is an experienced consultant who runs her own firm, Spider Silk Solutions. She provides not only coaching and practice management development to law firms worldwide, but she also encourages firms to adopt the latest technologies. She dedicates much of her time helping paralegals understand billable hours and the importance of time capture.
Tuschak says a lot of paralegals “self-monitor” their work, they shave time from a task if they feel it could’ve been done faster. Don’t double check yourself, simply mark down the actual time you spend on a task. If you don’t, not only does it take money from the firm, it makes it hard for managers to spot areas of inefficiency where better tech could help.
This is a great reminder and could change the way you think about your job. Your “time capture” tells your story and demonstrates your value.
San Diego Paralegal Association
International Practice Management Association
Tony Sipp: Welcome back to the paralegal voice. My name is Tony Sipp, and I’m with my co-host Jill Francisco, and today’s guest is Karen Tuschak with Spider Silk Solutions, and we will be discussing billing and the art of billing. Karen is really a mentor of mine, and we met through San Francisco Paralegal Association event that she did. And from there, I just realized how talented she was and knowledgeable she was regarding the whole legal industry, which is why I wanted to bring her on and share her with the rest of all of you so that she can share her knowledge. She’s in Canada, doesn’t really matter. Billing is billing so we can address those issues. Karen, please tell us a little bit about yourself and we’ll jump into the topic.
Karen Tuschak: Okay. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak on this. I have been in the legal field for more than 35 years. I was a paralegal, then a paralegal manager, then a national director of paralegals across Canada. I was a president of the International Practice Management Association, and just about two years ago, I decided to take the leap and go out on my own. And there’s really two pillars to what Spider Silk Solutions does. One is strictly on the paralegal side of it. I do coaching to paralegals. I go into firms and help them with structure, professional development, building a team that is really recognized and really promoting the role of the paralegal all around the world.
That’s a big side of what I do. And the other side is really technology. I work with law firms on adopting technology. They buy the technology, they implement it, but then they never really fully adopt it and get the benefits out of it. As I see that paralegals are now really technology champions, I’ve gone into also that technology side of it and work with firms actually all around the world now, helping them adopt their technology and really driving it to full performance.
Jill Francisco: That sounds super interesting. Like I said, I’m glad that you acknowledge and give paralegals the credit that we’re the ones that get those attorneys on board because either A, they just don’t even start it, or B, they don’t like change, so they don’t want to learn something new or implement it. Yeah, we always like to give our kudos to paralegals that we’re the ones bringing it around or getting it all together or whatever. And then we’re so happy to have you. Like Tony said, with the billing, because I’ve been a paralegal for — gosh, I think I’m in my 27th year and all defense, so that’s my billing is my deal, sink or swim. And I have said I didn’t like it on day one, and I still don’t like it. Here we are. The show is yours to convince and help us. No matter how experienced you are, you’re always like just waiting for something that can say, okay, this isn’t really that bad. Okay, this is really helping me. Okay, this is not making me angry at the end of every month.
Karen Tuschak: Absolutely. I mean, the worst is going back and having to go through your calendar, your email logs and everything at the end of the month to try and figure out what was it that I did. Lots of anxiety around time capturing.
Tony Sipp: Billing has become even more so, a bigger issue post pandemic here, what are some of the things that you find come up the most when people who bill timekeepers are trying to address the billing issues within their firms?
Karen Tuschak: I think part of this problem that also happened during COVID is law firms didn’t know how to address that their clients were actually being productive or their employees were being productive. They looked especially to paralegals at the docketing. If you’re not docketing seven, eight hours a day, then you must not be busy. When we were internally, none of us were ever getting those hours because it also included all of our non-billable time. It became even more at the forefront that lawyers and management were looking and saying, they must not be working hard or they must only be working a couple of hours. Forget the fact that the work was getting done, they were focusing on a tangible thing that they could actually, hey, this is our KPI. How many hours do they have?
It became really at the forefront of how evaluations were being done and it became very stressful to the paralegals because they were used to working in the way they did. And now all of a sudden someone was questioning whether they’re working all their hours because they weren’t necessarily docketing for it. Sorry, we call it in Canada docketing.
I will try and keep to time capture. One of the things I told people at the very beginning was track all of your time. For the paralegals that were working with me, I said it’s not because I’m micromanaging, but you need to track all of your time, billable and non-billable, so that at the end of the year, I can go to bat for you. I know what you’ve been doing, I know how busy you are. But there’s nothing worse for a paralegal manager when you know somebody is way over capacity and then you look at their hours and it says they had four hours yesterday and trying to explain that away.
I put in the process that people should time capture for absolutely everything they do and put codes in to be able to easily parse that out. If they were working on a new technology project, I would set up a GL code for that technology project, because I also didn’t want to see all their non-billable time just going into a huge bucket called admin that I again couldn’t go to bat for them at the end of the year because I didn’t know what it was that was actually in this huge bucket of 500 hours. Whereas when they parsed it out to implementing a legal entity management system or helping with an E-discovery platform or doing a professional development seminar for the lawyers, it became much easier to say, oh, that’s all the time. And it really adds value. Although there’s not a monetary value to it, it adds a huge value to the firm because how else would any of this get done?
It was a change management for the paralegals. And I constantly had to tell them, this is not micromanagement, this is to do well with you. This is to help you. And I always tell the paralegals that work with me that I always look at them as clients of mine, like, yes, I’m management. Yes, I sometimes have to deliver hard messages, but ultimately my role as a manager is to help them achieve the best they can be and get them the technology, get them the tools, get them extra staff if we need it. And I can only do that if we all work together and I have the ammunition and the backup to make sure that I’m able to support them in that way. That was a big change.
Jill Francisco: That’s a really good point. It was just funny because I wanted to say I think one of the — when you’re talking about creating those different codes in order to give credit and know what they’re spending their time on and acknowledge that, I think we used to have one that was present. It was like a 900 code and it was like, present. I’m like what? I mean, you want to talk about a general issue that was just — you went in a big bucket. I mean, that was just basically you’re there maybe doing something, maybe not. You’re just present. That’s funny now because I think of the work from home world and it’s like, okay, does that mean present in the office? Does that mean present my desk? What does that even mean? That code is too hard to use anymore. I can’t use that code. But no, that’s great advice for paralegal. That’s something really to think about. Even if you did it like on your own little note thing to differentiate, because sometimes you might not, paralegals may not have control to implement a new code or like you said, but I mean, even just having little notes for yourself to know. I was working on a project. I was working on a presentation. I was learning new software. I was training. A lot of law firms will have training codes which are helpful, but no, that’s awesome. That’s great advice.
Karen Tuschak: I also set up a client on billable code so that if a lawyer asks them to do stuff that they couldn’t bill for, and I put in strict protocols of how to use that. When you’re entering to that code, you need to put the client’s name, who the lawyer is, and what you did for them. Yes, it’s extra work, but it pays off, like, fivefold at the end of the year because I’m not going through and having to parse through every single entry and think, oh, God, what was this? And what This and I can I get them credit for it. They did really get used to it and it did really give like just having come out of performance management, it did really give a lot of stats that pre-COVID we never would have had because people saw them walking the hall so they knew they were there and that was good enough for them. Like the present they’re there. That was a big one.
I would say one of the hard things to really drill in is do not self-monitor your time. Dock it, capture the time, how actual long it takes you to do the work. So many paralegals and law clerks that I’ve worked with, they’re like well it took me three hours but I think it took me longer than it should and maybe I should capture a little less and I always say track everything, every moment that you do. If the lawyer thinks that it’s way over the realm, then they will go to either that person or the manager and then you can explain it away.
As paralegals, we don’t know what the file can handle. By self-monitoring, we’re actually keeping revenue from the firm because maybe the file can handle it and the lawyer would bill it. It’s not really up for us to discuss and think what they should be billing and what they shouldn’t. And I also always say that if people don’t tell me how long it actually takes to do things then I can’t look at where do we need to build better efficiencies because I’m not seeing the real time it’s taking. If they’re working in a new technology platform and it’s taking them now twice as long as it used to, then it would be a flag to me to go and help and build. Look at the processes, look at the checklists, look at the workflows, we need to change those. Because it’s all about supporting the paralegals and making their lives better. And the more data we have on that, the better we can help them.
Tony Sipp: And the self-editing, that happens a lot. I find that a lot of the newer people to billing tend to do that and not capture their time or consider it admin time when it’s not. I’m glad you address that particular issue as well because it’s a real issue that comes up a lot. I know that the clients and the adjusters are constantly adjusting the criteria on their billing guidelines or their client guidelines, which makes it even more challenging for timekeepers to bill their time effectively. Have you run across or suggestions that you have to adjust to the adjustment of adjusters?
Jill Francisco: Fancy.
Karen Tuschak: Absolutely. Because they don’t want to pay for anything that they think is admin and they want to try and wipeout all the time that they can wipe out. A lot of it goes to the description. And I always tell people, you really need to think about what it is that you’re doing and write it in such a way that it shows the why and the how and the what. And it’s not just like I would never say telephone conversation with Tony Sipp. The client is going to be like, yeah, why was it 0.5 for a telephone conversation? It’s always like, telephone conversation with Tony Sipp to review the brief that was put together to be filed tomorrow, put the meaningful information in there so the client sees the value of what you’ve done and they want to pay for it because they understand what it is that you’ve done. And it’s hard, like, when you’re just out of school, it’s really hard to know how to word it. People often say to me, oh, my God, I listened to how you’re doing them and how did you learn that? And I quiver when I tell them that I’m still probably the worst time coach ever, even though I speak on it all the time I very often don’t practice what I preach, but it’s just an art and the more you do it, the better you get at it.
You really start to think, when you’re doing your time capturing, what should I say? What was the benefit of me doing this work? And for every single thing that you’re doing, you need to think that way. And then you also need to know your firm’s guidelines. Most firms have guidelines and you need to know what those are. And even the simplest thing. When I sometimes am doing sessions at different firms, one firm will say it would be T. Sipp and one firm will say it should be Tony Sipp, and one firm will say it should be Mr. T. Sipp. You need to know your own firm’s guidelines and you need to make sure that you’re adhering to them, because if not, you’re going to hear from the legal assistants and the lawyers and the billing clerks when it comes time to bill that file and everything you’ve done is totally out of sync with everybody else who’s docketed to the file.
There really is an art to it. And it’s really important that people focus on it because ultimately, law firms sell time and if you’re not docketing or capturing your time, you might as well not be doing the work because that’s how they make money.
Jill Francisco: When you were talking about, like you said, the adjusters and Tony’s talking about how to use the correct wording. I always tell this story to try to – when I’m helping newer paralegals, there’s always words that now the clients have computer programs to check our entries, which I think is hard because a lot of times it’s not in the right context. For example, we have a thing called a scheduling order that is very important court mandated deadlines. And then I’ll put analyzing entered scheduling order and abstracting information from same or something to that order.
And they’ll get me for scheduling because they think I’m scheduling is an admin task. And I’m like, no, that’s the name of the pleading. And so I have to go back and do it, call it a time frame order or something like that. It’s hard, I think, when you’re talking about how to get our time and get our substantive work time for that paid. It’s hard now because I said a big companies, they use those programs and you’re just basically on a search, they’re searching for these words that even file. It doesn’t mean I’m physically putting something in the file as an admin task. That’s hard. That’s hard. That’s a struggle, I think, for legal staff and stuff these days, because it’s like you want to just put what you did because you want to be ethical and you want to be true and exact and accurate and it’s hard, it’s difficult.
Karen Tuschak: Absolutely. It’s meaningful to you and it’s not even the ultimate client that’s having a problem with it. Lots of firms now are hiring third parties to run these algorithms through the accounts and then they send it back to them and say, you may not want to pay this amount. If it’s the lawyer that was looking over the account or the in-house counsel, they would be fine with it. They’re using third parties that are running through, running their systems through it and saying, oh, you could probably decrease your billing by this amount. Go back to your law firm.
Jill Francisco: Exactly.
Karen Tuschak: Technology is fabulous, but it can’t show the value of what it is that people bring to the process.
Jill Francisco: True.
Tony Sipp: Well said. We’re going to take a commercial break right now and we will be right back with this topic of billing with Karen, Jill and myself.
Female 1: Are you ready to level up your career? Level Up is a free virtual event that gives legal professionals throughout the firm an opportunity to learn new skills, adopt the latest tech, discover ways to be more efficient, improve collaboration, and get inspired. Join InfoTrack on April 27th and 28th at the fifth annual Legal Up Virtual Conference. For information pack sessions, memorable networking, hands on workshops, and more. Register today at infotrack.com/legalup.
Male 1: Attorneys and law firm owners, do you spend too much time working in your business and not enough time working on it? Build a law firm that works for you with Smokeball legal software. Smokeball’s case management tools keep your entire firm organized and automatically tracks your time so you bill more hours without extra work and spend more time focusing on practicing the law you love, helping people and building a great life. Visit smokeball.com to learn more and sign up for your free demo. Smokeball. Run your best firm. Build your best life.
Tony Sipp: Welcome back. We are here with myself, Tony Sipp, Jill Francisco, and Karen Tuschak. We are going to jump right back into what we were talking about, the third-party programs that prescreen or prescrub, I guess, your billing entries. When I first started with my firm, one of the things I did do is meet with the people from accounting as well as the other people that the paralegals as well and others that are involved with the billing process to find out what we could do to improve things and make it better. And that’s when I found out about the semicolons. You put that in your description, you get flagged. You use the same phrase over and over again, flag. There’s a lot of things that can flag you, and you spend a lot of non-billable time doing the appeals, the audits, that thing you did three months ago that you now have to spend 30 minutes to address. What are some of the things that you think will help people — over the years, I’ve developed a cheat sheet that I send out to the paralegals that I’m like, listen, cut, paste, save. These are going to be the things. You’re going to have to adjust it. But in general, this is what you need to say. You can’t say, I asked for records. Now I have preparation of subpoena for records from blah, blah, blah, blah. Any other things that — these third parties, a blessing and a curse at the same time. Thoughts?
Karen Tuschak: I think there’s not a lot you can do about it except try and be proactive and I don’t know if it’s the paralegals role or if it’s really like the lawyer and the legal assistance role, but trying to know what the retainer agreement with those clients is, because typically it’s the larger clients that are using these third-party vendors, and typically the larger clients, their retainer agreement is very specific.
It will say, we won’t pay for photocopying, we won’t pay for filing, we won’t pay for telephone calls. If you know all of those things up front, it makes it a bit easier because you know what’s going to be picked up by the third parties. The problem is people will sit back and think, oh, my God, docketing. It’s becoming a full-time job. Like, I have to worry about all of this? But not everybody works for the big clients, and it’s going to save you a lot of time at the end of the day if you just do some planning and give some thought to it. At the last firm I worked at, when we had a really big client and billing was coming up, they would send out an email with reminders like, just remember, the client’s not going to pay for this, this and this.
It was just giving you a bit of a heads up as you were doing your dockets to think about how you were wording them and what you were saying. And it’s like writing a story. I come from — I did a lot of corporate work, I was always telling my story before I did my resolutions. And it’s the same thing with time capturing. You’re telling your story. I always tell people, and it has to be fulsome whether the lawyer is going to bill it or not, because a lot of times the account ends up being an actual marketing tool for your law firm. They use it as if they’re writing off time, they still may put those entries in and say, look at all this time we did for free, or we gave you 10% off, but look at everything we did for that 10%. And the people are looking at the account, are really looking at it to say, okay, what did this firm do for me? And how you write, how you stay with the protocols of the firm, how you make sure your spelling is correct, all of that sets the tone for how professional you are. It is a marketing tool to your clients as well about the quality and the type of work that you do for them.
Tony Sipp: I have to agree. Telling the story is telling them, the client, that you’re moving the case forward. We’re not just sitting on it, reading the billing guidelines. Crucial, I think every paralegal meeting I have, one of the first few things I say is read the billing guidelines. If I assign a task to you, read the billing guidelines. There’s things you can and cannot do. It’s like the Bible, right? So, those are one of the things. Telling the story, making sure that it’s consistent and it’s not repetitive, because a lot of the work we do can be repetitive as well. But you’re moving the case forward, so I think that’s great. Jill, I know you’ve done this a lot.
Jill Francisco: I know. I want to see what she has to think because I loved it when you said that, you’re probably the worst because you don’t take your own advice. That’s how I feel I am sometimes, because believe me, this isn’t the first time. And probably same with Tony. This is the first time we’re talking about billing. We’re at a billing CLE, but we still struggle because I just think it’s one of those things. That’s just an issue. You don’t really like it on day one, it’s difficult on day one, and it just kind of a thorn to your side. But I know you probably have some good advice because one of the biggest things I struggle with is, like you said, do your time as you go along, as it goes. And I know you probably use different time systems like we use CMS, and I’ve gotten some different things like, do you open up the entry? Do you type something, and then it takes you an hour?
So, then do you go back and edit it? What’s your kind of like flow, maybe tips and tricks on how you do it for the flow of it? Because that’s something I think that’s foreign, especially for new paralegals. And then maybe for — to me personally, I feel like I’m just getting everything done. I’m busy as a little bee over here and I don’t want to stop and do my time. I mean, that’s my problem. That’s what I get into. And then I think, well, that’s dumb because that’s how the law firm makes money. That’s how I get recognition sometimes on paper, because I’m doing all these tasks, but I’m just not getting them where they belong and noting them correctly. So, maybe some advice on that. For me and everybody else.
Karen Tuschak: So, the first thing I always say is there’s no right or wrong way to track time. You need to do find the method that’s going to work for you and that you’re going to stick with. So, there’s a lot of these in tap time and CMS and Elite and the firms are bringing out all this new technology, but if you find it, it’s a hindrance to do it that way, then you’re not going to do it even more so. So, I always tell people, there’s so many ways to docket your time back to having that pad on your desk beside you and just writing it down. Some people still do it that way. Some people have a Word document open that they just type it into, and then they transfer it into the accounting system towards the end of the day. Not everybody likes working in the accounting system because they feel then they’re going back and forth whereon their desk, they can just jot it down. The important thing with jotting it down on your desk is that you actually put it into the system at some point.
Jill Francisco: True.
Tony Sipp: Yeah.
Karen Tuschak: What I try to do, and I even do this with just project work that I have is I really use my calendar a lot. So, I have a five-minute slot before lunch, and at the end of the day that says, “Check your time”, right? So, I’m not letting it get to the end of the day, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh God, I’ve been sitting at my desk head down, and I have no hours written down anywhere.” So, if you just do those quick check ins, it doesn’t take a lot and you can say, oh my God, why do I only have a 0.5 and it’s already noon, right? And that way, what you’ve done is clear in your mind and you can just jot it down and then I do the check in again at the end of the day. My rule is I don’t go home until my dockets are in every single day. And people laugh at me because they say, yeah, that’s what everybody says, but nobody does it. And I was one of those people that I was like — I was looking at my calendar and I was going through my emails and who did I speak to and what did I do today? And you’re just missing so many of those 0.1s that it becomes untenuous, like you just can’t do it. So, it’s really — I built a system where I do. I check before lunch and I check at the end of the day.
Some people say, well, I like coming in in the morning and putting my dockets in. I typically find that when I come in in the morning, my to do list is already off track. So, if I try and do my dockets in, it’s not going to happen. Because I come in, I get a coffee and somebody starts asking me questions, right? And then I get to my desk and oh God, it’s 9:00 already, I better start the file work, right? So, I like to do it just before I go home and then it’s done and it’s off my mind. If people can’t follow that, it absolutely should not go longer than two days, three days, like, once you’re hitting that, you started work on Monday, and it’s already Friday, and you haven’t put any of your dockets into the system. You’re in bad shape. And it’s not only bad shape because you’re not going to track your time. We also don’t always know when the lawyers are going to bill the file. So, if you’re on a large transaction and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to put this in at the end of the transaction”, and then the transaction closes in the lawyer bills, well, then they can’t do another bill for your time. So, there’s so many reasons why it’s important to make sure your time is — in a perfect world, the lawyer would send an email and say, we’re going to bill this file within the next 24 hours. Get your time in.
Jill Francisco: Not happening.
Karen Tuschak: But that doesn’t happen.
Tony Sipp: No, not at all.
Karen Tuschak: It’s not happening. And you’re probably on the next transaction anyway, so you can’t stop. And then you’re like, and then I’ve seen it all. I was going to write a book about what people docket, right? So, people dock it for docketing. So, it is (00:28:00) circle, okay? I had somebody put a docket in, you know, roaming the halls looking for work, right? Like it gets to the point where it just becomes like, “Okay, we need to bring this back to reality and look at what exactly”. You should never be docketing for docketing, because you should be doing your docket regularly. So, it’s taking you five or ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the day. It’s not a Friday, and you’ve just spent two hours recreating your day. And now, how are you going to account for those two hours?
Tony Sipp: Right.
Karen Tuschak: Right? So, it’s really finding the tool that works for you, being consistent with that tool. So, don’t jump every time a new tool becomes available. Don’t use five different tools and think, “I’ll capture it somewhere”, because you’re just spreading yourself thin. Find the tool that works for you and work at it. Revise it. If it’s not working, change it up. I love timers, so if you have the accounting system that have timers, I love starting all my timers, and then I can click it on and off when someone comes into my office. So, those are really great, but it’s really getting into a time capture mindset, because I always tell the horror story that there was an amazing paralegal who did really good work. But in 2008, when the economy started to turn down and they were looking at dockets, she had absolutely like it was no time, so she had lots of admin time, but no time. So, she was the one that we cut. And then after six months later, it was like, “Oh, my god, who’s doing all of this work?” Because nobody knew that there was the work that was being done. So, the firm was losing the revenue, she lost her job, and it was all because of bad docketing habits. So, it just really is that important. And I don’t think it’s anything that we all have inherently in us.
It’s a skill that you need to learn because there’s also the balance between not enough information and too much information. So, you don’t want to write a docket that’s a page long and then have a 0.2, right? The clients are going to think you’re crazy or just padding your docket. So, it is something that’s learned, and I think firms are well served if they don’t just have a session with the paralegals when they start and they’re onboarding. But that it’s a consistent messaging. And I’m a believer that nothing should be brought up on your evaluation that you haven’t heard at some time during the year. So, you can’t just talk to them at the end of the year and their evaluation, “Well, you didn’t meet your target” or “Well, your dockets are low or your descriptions”. As managers, we need to stay on top of it and make sure that we’re helping because we know how difficult it has been for all of us. So, maybe we can impart some wisdom on the newer people into the field so that they can find ways and use our expertise in making it easier for them.
Jill Francisco: Totally agree.
Tony Sipp: Enter and release your time daily. That’s what I say. And do it as you go.
Jill Francisco: Yes.
Tony Sipp: When you stop doing that, I used to be that guy that put it on pen and paper and then transferred, right? Then I started typing and then transferred. Then I’m like, “This is wasting a lot of time.” If I just put it directly in, I’m done.
Karen Tuschak: Yeah.
Tony Sipp: And one of the things I do advise is that let’s say, it’s subpoenas, right? I already know how long it’s going to take. I just put them in first and then I put the time in different facilities and then I do the task, because I’m only going to get 0.1. I know that. So, I’m just going to plow through these eight subpoenas and have my time entries in, because one of the things I fear, as you stated earlier, is that I don’t want to lose any good people because they didn’t put their time in. And there’s so many good people that aren’t putting their time in. It’s just like I don’t know how to express more to you to please, like, I like you a lot as a person, but if you keep doing this, we’re going to have drinks somewhere else because it’s not going to be over here. You’re going to be at another job somewhere. Just please help me help you. So, yeah, it’s very important. Get your time in.
Karen Tuschak: And you often hear it from the paralegals, “Well, I don’t have time to dock it, like, I’m so busy with my work. If I dock it, I’m not going to get the work done.”
Tony Sipp: Correct.
Karen Tuschak: Right? So, it’s just really like, don’t bother doing it if you’re not docking for it because firm is not making any money on it. It’s kind of like, maybe I should change the name of my course to The Myth of Time Capturing and not just demystifying it because it always has been like I said, I’ve been in the field for over 35 years and it’s always been something that people are always struggling with. And I teach in our college courses and we teach it in college and all throughout, but it just becomes really difficult to figure it out. And I think the quicker you learn the habits and actually make it a habit, the better it’s going to stick with you for the rest of your career.
Tony Sipp: I agree. Well, we’re going to take another commercial break right now and we’ll come back with Karen and the best practices.
Male: Workers’ Comp Matters is a podcast dedicated to exploring the laws, the landmark cases, and the true stories that define our workers’ compensation system. I’m Jud Pierce, and together with Alan Pierce, we host a different guest each month as we bring to life this diverse area of the law. Join us on Workers’ Comp Matters on the Legal Talk Network.
Female: The Digital Edge Podcast, where the law and technology intersect. I’m Sharon Nelson, and together with Jim Calloway, we invite professionals from all fields to discuss the latest trends, tips and tools within the legal industry. Stay up to date on the rapidly changing legal tech landscape with The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network.
Tony Sipp: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice Podcast. I’m here with Jill Francisco, Karen Tuschak, and my name is Tony Sipp. We’re going to conclude with the best practices for billing with Karen, who has done this forever and really has some really great tips that can help new paralegals as well as experienced paralegals as well. So, let’s jump in Karen, and what tips do you have to provide our paralegals in the legal community regarding billing?
Karen Tuschak: When you get a piece of work, ask for the matter number, like ask right then and there so you’re not wasting the time looking for it later.
Tony Sipp: Right.
Karen Tuschak: Right? So, when the lawyer gives you a piece of work or sends something into you, find out what the number is so that you’re ready to do your dockets. Do your dockets daily. However you’re tracking it, whatever system works best for you, make sure that it is getting into the actual formal docketing accounting system daily and that you are finalizing it and closing it out at the end of every day, and make that a habit. I put notes in my calendar to remind me to do it. If you have a legal assistant, ask your legal assistant to remind you to do it. But whatever you do, make sure that you’re putting the time into getting the dockets done daily so that you don’t run into problems later. Make sure that you’re writing clearly and legibly so what you’re writing makes sense.
And remember, it’s a marketing tool. And I often tell people, “Remember, everybody that sees your dockets.” So, that’s why it’s so important. From the lawyers you work for to the clients that you’re working with to adjudicators if your bill is assessed by the client to the accounting departments. You know, there’s so many different people that look at what you’re writing for so many different reasons. So, don’t panic about it, but just become really good at making sure that you’re writing what you need to write in a way that no matter who sees it, it’s going to really work for you. Break down the time so that you’re not trying to find chunks later and make sure you’re capturing all those 0.1s. So very often, like, if somebody’s way of docketing is they have a piece of paper on their desk, well, then they’re on the train or they’re home and they’re answering phone calls, that’s all time you need to docket. So, if your firm system has a mobile app, put that mobile app on your phone so that you’re tracking those 0.1s and 0.2s when you’re not in the office because the time that you’re working outside is just as important. So, you have to make sure you have a mechanism to track the time that you’re spending on your work when you’re outside of the office. And ask, ask, ask, ask. Ask the paralegals that you work with. Ask senior management. Ask the accounting department. Never stop learning, because it’s such an important skill that the more we learn and there may be some quick tip or trick that somebody has that will make your life that much easier. And it’s important to realize that the firm makes money on the billable hour, so people are looking at how many hours you’re billing.
And my last tip is that the non-billable in ways is as important as the billable. So, track your whole day, just get used to it. It’s not that somebody doesn’t trust what you’re doing. It’s for your own good and the good of your team, because it really elevates the role of the paralegal at your firm when you’re able to say, “Look, we helped with diversity inclusion initiatives and we did technology implementations, and we did a session for our clients on something that had to do with a practice group area.” It really shows all the different paths and all the different things that paraprofessionals do to help the clients of the firm. And you’re not going to be able to project any of that if you’re not docketing for it and tracking it.
Jill Francisco: Just to kind of add on that. Not only what you’re doing, like you said, the non-billable, but I always try to — because I didn’t used to do this. But if I attend a CLE on my lunch or I take a CLA even during firm time, I put it on my timesheet because that’s again, somewhere to show like, “Hey, I’m learning.” And I put just put what it is, like webinar regarding whatever because how our firm does it we have to put a minimum — we have to just have on our timesheet a minimum 7.5 hours a day. So, whatever that is. If it’s non-billable, if it’s billable, whatever it is, we just have to account for 7.5 hours a day. So, I work through lunch or like I said, I take a CLE or I go somewhere and listen to a speaker. I mean, I put all that on there and it also is a way for paralegals to keep track of their continued education, to look back and verify that they’re doing their forever learning. Because I liked it when you said that. I’m on my soapbox about that also. So, don’t worry, that’s a great thing to do. But no, I appreciate all your tips. I think they’re great, because it’s a bear and it’s harder think for newer paralegals because it is a foreign skill, and even I began teaching an intro to para legalism class and they mentioned it in there, and I tried very briefly, and I try to kind of give a little bit more background.
I talk about if you want to bill, if you don’t want to bill, where you can work, where you should not work. And I talk a little bit about your life in 0.6 or six-minute increments and things like that, but it’s still foreign when you get out there, and you really have to do the pen to the paper, so to speak. So, I appreciate your insight and trying to make, like I said, a task that’s very important. Make or break paralegals, like Tony said, and try to make it a little bit more bearable. So, I appreciate that.
Tony Sipp: Yeah. Thank you, Karen. Now, Jill, you keep saying foreign. Is that because she’s Canadian, or is that something?
Jill Francisco: I was still in that right in there. Without even knowing it. Without even knowing it. I’m just trying to brag that we’re going international. Can we do that?
Tony Sipp: Let’s take that. That’s great. All right. Karen, I really, really appreciate you coming down today. Coming down. Being on the podcast today. I know you have some upcoming events that really will be very helpful to our community. Would you like to, one, let them know what that is, and then two, how they can get in contact with you?
Karen Tuschak: Sure. So, first of all, I do have a podcast series. It’s on Apple, Spotify. Anywhere you look actually. It’s called Untangling The Web. Tony was actually a guest on it, and it’s all things paraprofessional and technology, so I’ve had some great speakers. So, I think people should definitely look to that. I am doing a free session on April 12 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time on demystifying, The Art of Time Capturing. So, it’s about an hour-long webinar. It’s sponsored by some vendors, so that’s why it’s free. It’s for anyone who dockets time regardless of what jurisdiction they’re in. And there’s a lot of fun things in it. We play Family Feud in it. So, like, who are the top people that see your time capture? So, it’s a lot of fun. So, you should look at joining that. My website is www.spidersilksolutions.com, and there will be a landing page on there, or you can follow me — it will be up as of Monday. Or you can follow me on LinkedIn, because they’ll be there. I’ll be advertising it all the time. And the only last push is I’m starting a leadership course as well on April 5. It’s done with a company that is women led. It’s called “Monarch”. And so, a lot of it you do online or on your mobile phone, and then every two weeks, we’re going to have sessions that are we talk about things, we go through the content. I did do an International Woman’s Day special for $750. I’m continuing it for another week. And for all you Americans, that’s really cheap because it’s 750 Canadian. So, sign up. There is a landing page on my website already, so sign up.
Tony Sipp: We only have the best guests here. So, Karen, thank you again for coming. Jill, I’m so happy to have you be a part of this. And for everybody else, please go to the websites, go attend seminars or webinars and thank you for coming. I’ll talk to you next time.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Notify me when there’s a new episode!
|Published:||March 30, 2023|
|Category:||Career , Paralegal|
The Paralegal Voice provides career-success tips for paralegals of any experience level.