Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paralegals: Increase Your Billable Hours With Low Hanging Fruit

You can thank Mother Nature for the expression low hanging fruit.

A fruit-bearing tree usually has some branches that are low enough for animals and people to reach without much effort. While the fruit on the lowest branches may not be as ripe or pretty as the fruit on the higher limbs, it’s easier to harvest.

Thus the popular expression ‘low hanging fruit’ generally means selecting the easiest target with the least amount of effort.

The term is often used in business to refer to the sale of consumer products or services. Salespersons may be encouraged to seek out the easiest customers first. These might not be the highest commission sales but they may be easier to close AND there may be more of them.

Here’s another example: Imagine for a moment that you’re taking a trip to Italy but you don’t know how to speak a single word of Italian. It’s obvious that you should start with the easiest words and phrases first such as wine…coffee…please…good-by…thank-you…taxi…etc. instead of beginning by conjugating verbs. By choosing to learn the simplest words and phrases first, you are picking the low hanging fruit. In this case, you are not necessarily choosing the less important but, instead, the easiest way to reach your goal.

You can apply this example to almost anything you are working on, but in this instance let’s apply it to increasing your billable hours. How do you increase your billable hours with low hanging fruit? You do this by choosing to do the work that will yield the most billable hours.

Instead of focusing on minor projects that having you starting and stopping and entering .6 entries all day, focus on the larger projects on which you can spend a considerable block of time and for which you can bill all, or at least most, of that time.

In a law firm, this is not necessarily the easiest work. Instead, it is work that will yield the maximum billable hour results...or picking the low hanging fruit.

What do you have to do today that will yield the most billable hours? The deposition summary? The medical records review? The answers to interrogatories? The estate plan? What pleadings need to be drafted? Each of these may take several hours.

Begin your day with those larger projects when your energy levels are at their highest. Close your door, do not take phone calls, and do not check your email. This should be absolutely uninterrupted time.

Once you have spent your block of time on the low hanging fruit projects, tackle the smaller projects such as email, phone calls and correspondence all at once. This is all billable time but if you draft a letter, then work on the deposition summary for a while, then return some email, then return some phone calls, you will have turned your day into a mishmash of work. In fact, you may begin a whole bunch of projects and finish none. Jumping from one task to another reduces your focus and your productivity. The result is fewer billable hours.

Of course, you can pick all the low hanging fruit you want, but you have to turn it into profit before it does you any good. That said, be sure to enter the time for your longer project as soon as it's finished so that you don't lose any billable hours. The same goes for those shorter tasks. You will have the greatest number of billable hours if you input your time as your day goes along and be sure it's all entered before you leave the office in the evening.

Your challenge: Always plan your day around the low hanging fruit. Before you leave the office in the evening, consider what must be done the next day. Once you have that list choose the project that will take you the greatest amount of time and schedule a block of time for that first. Then bundle the smaller tasks and plan to do them all at once. If time permits, spend another chunk of time on more ‘low hanging fruit’ later in the day. Focus on the low hanging fruit and you are practically guaranteed you will reach your billable hour goals by the end of the year.

©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc. Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available at

1 comment:

Tricia C. said...

Excellent post! Not only will following your suggestions help increase billable hours, but will make you more productive overall. At least that's been my experience - focusing on tasks that need uninterrupted time early in the day makes it more likely I actually get to them.