Todd Gerstein

CEO & Founder, Smart Time Apps

In all my years of studying timekeeping in law firms, one of the major themes I see again and again is how difficult, cumbersome and downright painful it can be to track time in tenths of an hour.

So if you don’t absolutely have to track time, why would you? Are there circumstances where attorneys in a General Counsel’s office that have not traditionally been required to report on their hours might do so voluntarily?

We have had many discussions with General Counsels. What we have learnt is that most of them have installed some sort of matter management system that are chock full of data and analytic tools. They can compare one outside provider to the next to compare cost effectiveness.

But, what about the internal legal department?  How do they measure up to outside providers? Should we double the size of the legal department and reduce outside spend?  What is the best way to split up work between internal and outside providers?

In my opinion, timekeeping can create the data to help answer these questions.

How to Make it Work

First, be gentle with your timekeepers; traditionally, in-house jobs freed you from the burden of tracking hours. It was one of the perks. So now you’ll want to explain to everybody the business reasons why you are doing it.

Part of being gentle is to make it simple. Make the time entry form as simple and painless as possible, which means as few fields of input as possible. Just the basics: Date, Matter Number, Hours and Description.

To cut down on the number entries an attorney must do per day, don’t track time in tenths of hours, use a larger increment – say 30 minutes. And, block billing might even make sense.

How to Manage the Time Data

What’s the best way to do the analysis? Here is what we recommend.

To get the data into the system – export the time data in a Ledes format and import the data into the matter management system as if you were another law firm.  Once it is all there – take full advantage of the matter management system’s analytics to answer the questions we posed on top.

There’s no one right answer for every in-house attorney or every legal department. But given the reduced friction it takes to track time, it’s worth a discussion of what information and value might be gained by tracking those in-house hours.