Whether you bill clients at an hourly rate or work on cases with attorney fee awards, you need to keep track of your time very carefully. Many firms have established increments for billing time, and some firms have even assigned increments for certain tasks. However you do it, make sure every entry has sufficient detail and is justified.
For example, one court recently held (PDF):
[T]he Court finds that the firm’s time spent reading and reviewing e-mails is excessive, especially considering that the review of such e-mails often did not require any follow-up, as evidenced by the firm’s own detailed time records. The uniform fifteen minute entries strike the Court as excessive, if not implausible, as it is highly unlikely that every single review of an e-mail, without follow- up, required fifteen minutes of time . . .
This case appears to be unique in the sense that the firm had a uniform policy for emails, and also contained sufficient detail to establish fifteen minutes was not warranted in the judge’s opinion.
Many firms use uniform increments with no explanation. But even when a case requires repetitive tasks, uniform increments can be a dangerous proposition. When you need to track your time, take careful notes, and make sure your billing matches up with the task.