Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Are You Billing for Time Spent on Distractions?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 27, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Even the most focused lawyer can be pulled off task by distractions, by the urgent phone call, the quick email, the glance at Facebook that turns into a few minutes of scrolling.

Such distractions are largely unavoidable. The problem is, time spent on distractions isn't billable. So how can you make sure that you're not accidentally passing the cost of that social media break or quick coffee run on to your clients? Here are some ideas.

Inescapable Interruptions + Bad Time Recall = Potential Ethics Problem

Unfortunately, lawyers can't just stop getting distracted or interrupted. As Kate Mangan noted in Lawyerist last week, lawyers are interrupted as much as once every three to ten minutes.

If we could account for the time spent on distractions and interruptions, then there would be no problem. But people are horrible at remembering how much time they spent on a phone call or checking their email. And that raises ethical issues, Mangan notes, as ABA Model Rule 1.5 demands reasonable billing, and ABA Formal Opinion 93-379 requires lawyers to bill for no more than the time they truly spend on a matter -- distractions and interruptions excluded.

Tackling Distractions

There are a few things lawyers can do to reduce their risk of billing for time spent on distractions. The first is to understand what's drawing you away from the task at hand. Mangan breaks lawyer interruptions into two categories: those that are self-imposed, such as stopping to chat with a coworker or to check Facebook, and those that are externally-imposed, such as client calls or impromptu meetings.

The first you can manage most easily. Pay attention to when you get distracted and attempt to work through whatever is causing your focus to wander. If you turn to apps on your phone when you're working on something boring, for example, stick the phone away in your desk drawer so it's not out to distract you.

External distractions are manageable too, but to a lesser extent. Having your assistant monitor your calls, for example, can help ensure that you're only taken off task for important issues.

Another strategy isn't to fight distractions, but to manage them. As we noted last week, one of the best ways to stay productive is to take regular breaks. Workers who take breaks are less likely to find themselves drifting off or getting distracted, allowing them to be more productive throughout the day. And a conscious break is much easier to monitor, and exclude from your billing, than a distraction that simply sneaks up on you.

Need recruiting help? Find it on Indeed.

Related Resources:

FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard