Law Practice

Making Time: Attorney Uses Hiatus to Create 'Pace Runner' for Billable Goals


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Photo of David Geerdes by Keith Claunch.

The years 2009 through 2011 were productive times in the household of David Geerdes. First, he and his wife had a brand-new daughter, prompting a hiatus from Geerdes’ associate post at SNR Denton’s Chicago office. Then, between doting and diapers, he snatched enough time to write the code for a new Web application to help other lawyers better manage their time, just before the birth of his son.

Haunted by his own uncertainty of where he stood when it came to billable hours, Geerdes devised a software tool that tracks, to the hundredth of an hour, progress toward any billable-hours goal.

Granted, there are other software tools out there that keep a bead on such things. But Geerdes says his free product, MakePace, is markedly different in that it takes into account all possible creditable work, including pro bono.

“It’s like having a pace runner in a marathon: I don’t have to burn out running the 26.2 miles as fast as I can,” Geerdes says. “As long as I follow my pace runner, I can relax and fall into a more comfortable pace.”

Geerdes says the prototype for MakePace started as an Excel spreadsheet he used to determine precisely how much time he needed to bill each day to ensure he would no longer need to fret about all the work he needed to do on his days off.

The final version makes tracking any effort toward a goal a snap. Attorneys set up a billable-hours goal a year in advance, check off the holidays and vacation time they plan to take, and MakePace immediately starts monitoring their progress.

“When things slow down, you can take an extra day off without worrying,” Geerdes says. “When things pick up, you can take on some extra work and not feel overwhelmed.”

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“For people who want to know where they stand with hours, it’s a great way to get feedback quickly and easily,” Geerdes says. “For people who want to push themselves to do more, this helps them spread out the work over the year.”

Geerdes is still on hiatus from his law career, tending the app at makepace.com and being a stay-at-home dad. “I loved the time I had with my daughter,” Geerdes says. “It’s time I don’t think I could ever get back, and I feel extraordinarily lucky that my wife and SNR allowed me the flexibility to have that.”

In the long term, Geerdes hopes to expand the service to offer attorneys an insider’s view on the varying pay scales for legal services. His data will come from attorneys using the site, he says, who have offered to share information about rates anonymously.

Essentially the data sharing is quid pro quo. The more information an attorney shares with MakePace, the more insight he or she will be offered about the billing practices of other attorneys. Geerdes also plans to offer a paid subscription for people looking for insight but preferring not to share.

“I think people might be surprised to see just how much variety there is in pay for similarly situated attorneys with similar backgrounds,” Geerdes says. “You’ll be able to find out if attorneys at other firms really are working less and making more.”

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