Tales From a Canadian Attorney: The Mighty Billable Hour – What Are Clients Really Paying For?

Carli Van Maurik

Ever wonder what goes into a billable hour? Or what your future holds when you’re beholden to billing? Carli van Maurik is back and she explains what exactly makes up that precious time that lawyers are all too familiar with. Welcome back, Carli! 

Except for incorporations, wills, POA’s, etc., most solicitors charge their clients by the hour (or by 6-minute increments to be exact). “Time spent” during the billable hour usually includes some of all of the following:

The search for precedents

At a typical small to medium sized firm there is no organized precedent bank. Instead, a solicitor will usually first spend a chunk of time looking for a precedent. He will troll through old files, look through publications like O’Briens and ask colleagues.

Once a solicitor finds something that is ‘close’, he will spend even more time adapting it, removing confidential information, making fonts and definitions consistent, formatting and mashing together clauses from other precedents. After all that he can finally start drafting.

In other words, a lot of time is wasted.

File organization and management

Usually solicitors will charge for time they (or their assistant) spends organizing and managing the file. This may include hole punching documents and placing them on file brads, reviewing materials to refresh their memory, saving e-mails and organizing correspondences digital files. Clients really enjoying seeing these entries on their accounts.

Calls, e-mails and correspondences

Clients love this one! Most solicitors will bill for every phone call, e-mail and correspondence….. period. It usually doesn’t matter what was discussed or what was accomplished.

Clients feel anxious about contacting their lawyer because they know that the clock is running. Clients have told me point blank that they don’t want to tell me all of the details or background to a matter because they don’t want to complicate things (in other words increase their bill).

“Considering Issues”

This is my all-time favorite. Solicitors will spend time “considering issues”. This entry is usually used when the solicitor does not actually know how to enter time on an account. In my view, if you don’t know how to describe an account entry, you probably didn’t do anything that deserves an entry.

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Thanks, Carli!

More about Carli:

Carli van Maurik is a senior business solutions lawyer and joined Whiteboard Law in 2014. Carli was formerly with a highly regarded business law firm located in Victoria, B.C., where she led their Corporate and Commercial Department.

An entrepreneur herself, she recently co-founded an innovative online start-up company.

Ms. Van Maurik is actively involved in the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) and is a booster with VIATeC’s “Accelerate Tectoria” accelerator program where she mentors start-up businesses and appears as a frequent guest speaker.

Carli has extensive experience in a wide range of business law matters including assisting her clients with (technology) start-up formation, debt and equity financing, sophisticated corporate/capital structuring, corporate governance, maintenance and compliance, as well as shareholders agreements. In addition, she regularly assists clients with complex corporate re-organizations and helps by avoiding and solving stakeholder disputes. Other areas of practice include negotiating and preparing share/asset purchase, franchise and licensing agreements. She has extensive experience in structuring corporate entities, societies and not-for-profits, cost-sharing arrangements, joint ventures and partnerships.

Carli has volunteered her time with the Access ProBono Society of British Columbia providing legal advice to low income individuals.  She was sought out to make a guest appearance on a Victoria television show profiling the local business community.  Carli is also an Advisor with ICE which is a resource for helping budding entrepreneurs research and potentially launch a new venture. It is also a resource for very early ventures that have yet to raise outside money (beyond early “friends and family”) and which are now reaching a stage where they need to polish a business plan and become “Investor-Ready”. ICE is an initiative of the Gustavson School of Business on behalf of the University of Victoria.

Carli is a graduate of St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia and attended law school at Dalhouse University where she received the Award of Academic Excellence and was on the Dean’s List for 2002 – 2003.  Carli was called to both the British Columbia Bar and the Nova Scotia Bar in 2007.

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