Billing in 6 Minute Increments Explained & Simplified for Attorneys

Charlotte Seibert, April 30, 2024

Billing in 6 minute increments

According to the 2023 Legal Trends Report, lawyers are working harder than ever: compared to 2016, lawyers handled over 40% more cases and billed 70% more. At the same time, only around a third of the day is reported as billable hours, and in many law firms, it takes a long time from work to payment.

Lawyers and law firms use various methods for billing and recording their time. 6-minute increments or tenths of an hour are particularly popular.

Ideally, time tracking and billing processes should be as simple, efficient, and accurate as possible. However, these tasks often become a time-consuming burden. Clever solutions are needed!

In this article, we explain why and how lawyers use 6-minute increments for time tracking and billing, the advantages and disadvantages of this method, and what (more efficient) alternatives you can use. On top of that, some practical tips for calculating billable hours, invoicing, and increasing your productivity.

Find out how you can make the most of your time.

But first, back to basics.

What are billable hours & what's all the fuss about?

  • Billable hours are the time that a lawyer invests in case work and charges the client for. Such as meetings, telephone calls, or research for the client's case.
  • Consequently, non-billable hours are all other tasks and duties of a lawyer that are not (or cannot be) billed to the client. These include internal meetings, answering daily emails, planning, and travel. In short: Administrative and organizational tasks.

In the course of a day, lawyers perform many and varied complex tasks. Billable and non-billable hours alternate frequently.

Why are billable hours so important?

Well, you could say success is measured in billable hours: Most law firms expect their partners and attorneys to work a predefined minimum number of billable hours. As a rule, a law firm's profitability, reputation, and a lawyer's salary and career depend on billable hours.

For this reason, many law firms and lawyers aim to work as many billable hours as possible. After all, this means more time for clients and more revenue per lawyer.

Lawyers are usually responsible for tracking their billable and non-billable hours themselves. However, in addition to their challenging work, time tracking often becomes a burden and can even become a problem if done inaccurately.

With all this in mind, it is essential that lawyers track their time thoroughly and efficiently. 6-minute increments are very popular for this purpose.

What are 6-minute increments?

6 minutes on a clock

Lawyers use various methods for time tracking, documenting their tasks, and billing. These include:

  • Calendar
  • E-mails
  • Excel spreadsheets
  • Journals
  • Automatic tools & software

One of the most popular methods is a simple chart that breaks down the hours of a working day into 6-minute increments. The first column shows the minutes. The second column shows the intervals. Optionally, lawyers can document their tasks and activities in a third column. You can use these entries for invoicing. They provide insight and a clear overview.

Naturally, any interval can be used for time tracking and billing. Popular options include 30-, 15-, or 10-minute increments.

6-minute increments have become the industry's standard for practical reasons. Imagine having to maintain even shorter intervals, such as 3- or 1-minute intervals. On the other hand, what if you were to use longer intervals, for example, 30 or 45 minutes?

Longer intervals

  • often result in an unspecific list of different activities
  • lead to excessive rounding up or down of working time (pad the bill)
  • can lead to over- or undercharging
  • can cause mistrust and dissatisfaction among clients

Shorter intervals

  • appear complicated and confusing
  • are strenuous and time-consuming to manage
  • are inefficient
  • convey time pressure during work

6-Minute increments

  • divide an hour clearly
  • allow for flexibility between billable & non-billable hours
  • simplify invoicing
  • are precise enough not to round up or down excessively

Just think of the three bears: Not too much, not too little, a reasonable middle ground.

How billing in 6-minute increments works & best practices

So much for theory. Now, how can the method be put into practice? First of all, you need a standardized chart that translates the minutes worked into intervals:

6 Minute increments chart

Fortunately, you don't have to be a mathematician to use a chart like this: Move from the minutes worked in the left-hand column to the corresponding increment. Based on your hourly rate, the equation is quite simple:

Hourly rate x Increment = Amount of invoice

Let's try this out using two examples:

Your hourly rate is $750.

In a 16-minute phone call, you discuss the next steps in your client's case with them. You can now log this phone call in the first three columns on the right. As a memory aid, you could summarize the content and outcome of the conversation. To bill the client for the time of the telephone call, move from the column with 13-18 minutes to the corresponding interval. With the calculation of $750 x 0.3, you quickly and easily arrive at $225.

Following the telephone call, you work on the case for another 4 hours and 38 minutes. Simply add $750 x 0.7 = $525 to the rate of $3,000 for 4 hours.

6-minute increments can help you keep track of your working hours and invoice them in no time. With the following tips, this process will ensure the greatest possible satisfaction for clients and law firms alike:

  1. Explain the invoicing process to your client right from the start
  2. Focus on transparency, honesty & accuracy
  3. Log your hours as timely as possible
  4. Use clear & descriptive language

The advantages & disadvantages of 6-minute intervals

Advantages and disadvantages of 6 minute intervals

6-minute increments offer many advantages.

  • The method is simple, easy, and practical.
  • They can save a lot of time during invoicing.
  • They provide an ideal amount of time to prevent excessive rounding.
  • At the same time, 6-minute increments are small enough to ensure accuracy and transparency when invoicing.

Even compared to other manual time tracking and billing methods, 6-minute increments rank well. For instance, not all events of a day can be found in emails. A journal must be carefully maintained, and times must be entered again and again. Unlike a digital calendar or an Excel spreadsheet, the standardized billing chart is straightforward. It is easy to use and requires no prior knowledge. Neither time nor effort needs to go into its design or customization. Moreover, manual time tracking methods must be combined to be sufficient. In addition, you always have to depend on the annoying use of a timer.

However, even 6-minute increments could be more efficient.

  • Manually keeping track of billable hours takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.
  • Estimating a day, week, or even an entire month by memory is almost impossible.
  • Manual invoicing is just as prone to human error.
  • Not only can this lead to inaccurate invoices. It can also cause clients to lose trust and damage your reputation and that of your company.

How to make the most of your time

Making the most of your time

A lawyer's work can be very demanding and challenging. In order to invest more time and energy into billable hours, administrative tasks need to be made as efficient, or in other words, as time-saving as possible.

This is where automatic tools and software come into play. Automatic time tracking software, such as Memtime, can help you track your billable and non-billable hours while you work. Memtime can even track your time and tasks in 6-minute increments—down to the minute and the tab.

With the help of automatic time tracking, not a single minute gets lost, and you can remember every client and every task. Automatic time tracking reduces your workload, saves your time, is efficient and as precise as it gets. It also ensures a transparent and fair billing process for both sides.

Boost your productivity

Whether you prefer manual or automatic time tracking and billing in 6-minute increments – knowing how you spend your time is essential. Especially when every minute counts. Time and energy are our most precious resources. Unfortunately, they are limited.

Documenting your daily work routine is a first step towards more efficiency. This allows you to identify habits, productive times of day, recurring distractions, and disruptions. With this knowledge, you can organize your time more efficiently and systematically increase your productivity. For better results with less work. So you can devote yourself to the tasks that are important to you and that get you ahead.

6-minute increments are ideal for self-reflection and optimizing work routines. They provide enough space for detailed and accurate documentation of your tasks. They can even be used throughout your law firm to improve the work environment or identify whether and for which tasks additional staffing and support are needed.

Wrapping up

In a labor-intensive and highly competitive industry, where success is measured in billable hours, lawyers and law firms need efficient ways to stay on top of their time.

There are numerous methods and techniques lawyers can use for time tracking and billing. Some are more laborious and time-consuming than others. Among them, 6-minute increments are a great way to keep track of your time and tasks. A chart with 6-minute increments also helps with calculating and invoicing.

But even the most practical manual time tracking method is no match for automatic time tracking software. When it comes to getting the most out of your time and making your day-to-day work more efficient and productive, automatic time tracking is the key to stepping up the game.

Not entirely convinced yet? Why not try it out for free? So you never lose another minute and can focus on more important tasks.

Meet the author:

Sheena McGinley - post author

Charlotte Seibert

After studying humanities and working in the cultural sector organizing and programming bigger events, Charlotte Seibert immersed herself in the world of marketing. For Memtime, Charlotte writes about productivity topics and the benefits of automated time tracking.

Outside of work, Charlotte can usually be found with a book, her analog camera, or planning her next trip to the theater.