Billing Hours Worked
QUESTION 72: BILLING HOURS WORKED
I'm an attorney. I have to record my hours for each case I work on.
Although I try to be strict with my billing, I'm far from exact. For
example, I'm not equally productive on all days. Also, when I have less
work to do, I might spend more time on a case than I would otherwise - with
the result that the client will be billed for more hours. Another
difficulty is that when I am in the middle of working on a case I may be
interrupted by a phone call or distracted by some other matter. I don't
usually work on one case nonstop. I might be interrupted by phone calls or
speak about other matters. Can you give me guidelines for recording my time?
Matters such as these are not exact and precise. Even though you've
dedicated your time to a certain case, there are usually interruptions and
other work that present themselves. A person should try to make an accurate
estimate. Everything is an estimate - there's nothing that's really 100%
But the estimate should be somehow consistent with reality. You can't be
too generous to yourself. There are certain people who will always
estimate things in a very inflated way - any sofek (question) is accrued to
themselves. Other people are much more careful.
It's a mark of a person's character to be careful. When one person takes
his timesheet and tries to make an assessment and says, "Well, it probably
was about 3-1/2 hours. No, perhaps it took longer. I'll put down 4 hours",
and so on. This could indicate a character problem. A person should be
careful and honest.
On the other hand, people can try to be so careful that they end up
spending a good deal of time figuring out the exact time spent on each
activity, which itself adds to the expense of the service that they're
giving. They may hand in timesheets that are pages and pages long, filled
with nonsense. I've seen one that said they they spent 8-1/2 minutes
When you hand in your time sheets, you will be making a cheshbon
(calculation). But it's always something of an estimate and the estimate
has to be done with guardedness. Always remember that mezonoso shel odom
kasuvin lo m'Rosh Hashonoh v'ad Rosh Hashonoh (the sustenance of a person
is inscribed for him from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah). If you try to
grab a dollar here and there more than you should, the Ribono Shel Olam
(The Master of the World) has many ways of grabbing the dollars back from you.
If a person is not such a kleptomaniac - someone who grabs things whenever
it seems to be to his advantage - then in the long run, he'll get much more
of his allotted portion. It will come much more easily, and in a much more
b'kovodik (honorable) way, than having to chisel the money a minute here,
and a half hour there, by exaggerated estimates.
So the bottom line is that there has to be an estimate. But try to be
careful not to exaggerate the estimate.
One may follow what is knowns as "standard practice." Of course if
standard practice is to cheat and to overly inflate estimates, then don't
follow it. But if standard practice is to round things off to the nearest
couple of minutes, to basically include things such as the time that you go
to the washroom, then that's acceptable. You don't have to deduct a minute
here and there, such as for answering the telephone.
Being extra strict would be considered lifnim mishuras hadin (doing more
than the law requires). It's a middas chasidus (extra-righteous behavior)
to deduct a minute from the estimate because you blew your nose or
something like that. A person should be strict, but not overly
strict. There is a whole range that is acceptable. There are two
extremes. Going beyond one extreme is gezel (theft), and going beyond the
other is lifnim mishuras hadin, or middas chasidus. But between the two
extremes there is quite a range, and the person should tend towards the
more strict side of the range, rather than towards the more lenient - or
one could say, imaginative - side.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 73: RESPONSIBLITY FOR BOSS THAT INFLATES HOURS
Am I responsible, in any way, if my boss bills my time for hours
that are inflated? How obligated am I to make sure that my boss
does not inflate my hours?
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