How to Calculate Attorney Billable Time

The average person usually does not require the services of an attorney on a regular basis, so when faced with a situation that requires legal representation, people are often shocked at the cost. A large part of the shock comes from a misunderstanding of how an attorney bills for his time. Before you select an attorney to represent you in a legal action, make sure you get full disclosure on the attorney’s hourly rates and how he calculates billable time.

Ask the attorney for his hourly rate. Depending on your situation and geographic region, attorneys may charge less than $100 an hour or thousands of dollars an hour.

Ask the attorney how he breaks out his billing. For example, if an attorney bills in 15-minute increments only, then a 10-second phone call will still result in 15 minutes billed. Make sure you choose a qualified attorney with the lowest billing increment.

Maintain a monthly log of all contact with your attorney. Note dates, times and the length of the meeting or phone call. If you send an email, make a note of the email and estimate how long it took the attorney to read the email and type a reply.

Assign billable time to each item on your log based on the time spent in contact and the attorney’s billable increments. For example, if you made five phone calls during the month for 3 minutes each, but your attorney bills in 10-minute increments, then assign 10 minutes to each phone call for a total of 50 minutes of phone calls.

Total the amount of billable time for the month.

Multiply the billable time by the hourly rate to arrive at an estimated attorney cost for the month.

Compare your list and estimated time to the detailed bill provided by the attorney.


  • If you have a single non-pressing question, write it down and wait until you have more items to ask in order to cut back on billable hours.