Timekeeping is a necessary evil for every law firm. Even attorneys who work on contingency fees need to keep adequate documentation of their time in order to obtain court-awarded fees, and lawyers who charge on a flat-fee basis must track their hours to provide accurate time estimates and confirm that they are charging appropriate fees. So, how can you get your attorneys to keep better track of their time?
Adapt to Personal Styles
For years, attorneys have been lectured about the importance of recording their time contemporaneously. However, instead of insisting they change their personal behaviors, consider adapting your timekeeping tools to those behaviors. This could mean providing timers for those who do record contemporaneously, providing time recording tools for those who will reconstruct their time sheets at a later time and mobile tools for those who accrue significant billable hours outside of the office. Whichever tool the attorneys choose, adapting your timekeeping system to their behaviors will make it easier for them to record time.
Provide the Right Tools
In addition to selecting tools that suit your attorneys’ personal styles, ensure that the tools are appropriate for the type of work they do. For example, timekeeping software might include task descriptions such as “draft pleadings” or “conduct telephone conference with client.” However, lawyers are just as likely to hold conferences via instant messaging or work on documents collaboratively through Google Docs or similar services. If this is the case, it would be beneficial to offer the option to customize task descriptions in the software. It is also important that the tools are capable of effective time capture. Time capture capabilities monitor firm systems and attorneys’ devices for documents, phone calls, appointments, emails and research to produce a journal of the day’s activities for the individual. In other words, these programs may not record time contemporaneously, but they will capture it contemporaneously. The attorney will then need to record the time afterward.
Make it Worth Their While
It is easy to look at timekeeping as an administrative headache. However, your mission is to encourage attorneys to see it as much more. If your firm requires minimum billable hours, remind them that their compensation is largely driven by the hours they bill, and that they do not receive credit for hours not recorded. You also could provide some type of incentive for recording their time, such as performance evaluations that take into account compliance with timekeeping standards. Nevertheless, consistency is essential. Attorneys are more likely to comply if performance measurements are consistent every month. If they are evaluated and rewarded on hours billed each month, then they will have a consistent incentive to be conscientious about their timekeeping. The failure to record billable hours affects more than the individual attorney, it also affects the firm’s overall profitability and partners’ payouts. Peer pressure can also play a powerful role in encouraging lawyers to comply with timekeeping expectations. Those at the top of the firm must make it clear that timekeeping compliance is an organization-wide priority and that there will be consequences for noncompliance.
Do Not Waste Time
The aforementioned measures can help you minimize time “slippage,” or billable hours that never make it onto clients’ bills. Ultimately, non-billed time leads to time and money lost.
For more information on improving timekeeping practices at your law firm, contact Joel Herman at [email protected], or call him at 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Law Firm Group.