.By Matthew Krejci, J Ferm LLC
Special Guest Post
A year ago, we embarked on an extensive research project assessing the management pains in the legal profession. One aspect of the research involved detailed interviews of thirty attorneys to identify developing trends. Shortly after starting our interviews, it became apparent timekeeping was one of the top management pains for attorneys.
The first 29 interviews gleaned the following quotes:
“Timekeeping is the most unpleasant experience of being a lawyer.”
“Every attorney hates timekeeping.”
“The practice of billing time makes liars out of honest people.”
“It is inevitable time is lost every day.”
“Thinking is hard to capture on a time sheet.”
“Excessive time is lost each week due to having to record time.”
Then we interviewed Attorney #30. With genuine excitement, he stated: “I enjoy timekeeping! It is the opportunity to showcase my talents for my clients. I love entering the details into our billing software. It’s my livelihood. If I don’t bill, I don’t get paid.” Imagine our shock when we realized he was not kidding. So why do 29 of 30 attorneys share the opposite view?
Timekeeping creates angst among attorneys, and is a symptom caused by the infamous billable hour system. Without the billable hour, there would be no .2 phone call, followed by a .3 conference, broken up by .2 in the restroom, continued with a .5 of reviewing complaint, finished off by a .2 of writing things down frantically on a steno pad. Can you imagine the sense of freedom from an alternative flat fee billing arrangement whereby you wouldn’t have to record any of this, and you’d still get paid for your hard work on a case? You could even take a .3 in the restroom! Eventually, significant portions of the legal practice will move to alternative billing methods, but until that day, we must make do with what we have and learn from Attorney #30’s timekeeping exuberance.
No two attorneys keep their time in the same way. Some scratch it out on a steno pad, some dictate it for their legal assistant, and some enter it directly into a software billing system. In the majority of cases, it is reviewed at least one time by another attorney before it goes out to the client. Inevitably there is time lost in the process.
The key, according to Attorney #30 is to track your time contemporaneously. Each and every one of us can learn to record our work as it is completed. Most law firms do not spend a lot of time training their new associates on the process of timekeeping. It does not take long for a negative attitude toward the entire process to formulate. Attorneys quickly realize that if they are too efficient in their work, they get penalized and may hear about their low billable hours from their superiors. If the attorney is not efficient enough, their time will be cut and opportunities for advancement may be diminished. Furthermore, clients can be overcharged for the work of less than efficient lawyers. Firms will benefit from teaching their young associates the effective timekeeping techniques and positive outlook successfully implemented by Attorney #30.
Many attorneys don’t even realize the way they are keeping their time is inefficient. We interviewed one attorney who bragged to us about his effective process. “I keep a grid sheet at my desk and when I do something I write it down. Every three or four days I dictate my time for my secretary. After she types it up, I review it. After I give the okay, my secretary enters it into our billing software system.” This “effective” process require a single time entry to be written or typed a total of three times and then reviewed three times before it lands in a pile on a partner’s desk to be reviewed again. It is easy to see how attentive but ineffective timekeeping can become cumbersome rather than helpful.
Thank goodness for Attorney #30! These strategies will help attorneys stay focused, organized, and profitable while providing clients with exceptional services.
Attorney #30’s Five Tips for Efficient Timekeeping
1. Keep time contemporaneously with each task performed and in adequate detail: Carry the pen and pad with you at all times. You learned to carry the cell phone and as a business tool the timesheet is just as important.
2. Itemize your time: This will protect you later if you are forced to explain yourself to a client or to the court when opposing counsel charges your claim for attorney fees is exorbitant. Some clients require block billing, so obviously if a client provides guidelines you need to keep those in mind.
3. Record your time once: Avoid confusing yourself or your assistant by not taking notes on separate pieces of paper and then trying to coordinate the details.
4. If your firm offers a timekeeping software program, use it! If your personal computer contains the firm’s billing software, youhave no excuse for not entering it yourself. It shouldn’t take any more time than scribbling it out on a piece of paper and it saves your secretary time in having to decipher your notation. Make a point to have your time entered before you leave for home each day.
5. Prior to submitting your time, review it once for mistakes and spelling errors: After you have done so, your timesheets are ready to go to your supervisor or client and were only recorded and reviewed once. Instead of losing two billable days per month as one attorney we interviewed claimed, you may only lose a small portion of one day per billing period.
With an overhaul of your timekeeping process, you too may learn to love timekeeping. It sure would make life easier to share the outlook of Attorney #30. Use timekeeping as a way to showcase your talents….and to get paid.
About Matthew Krejci
Matthew Krejci is the Project Manager for J.Ferm No Frills No Fluff Management Skills Program: Lawyers Edition where he leads interviews with law firms all over the US, uncovering their most pressing management challenges. He is an experienced litigator and received his J.D. at Capital University Law School in Columbus, OH. For more information, please visit the No Frills No Fluff website at: http://www.nofrillsnofluff.com or email@example.com