For the past 30 years I have been reading articles about the death of time recording and that the legal profession is switching to fixed fee or value billing. However, an American Bar Association study some years ago found that when lawyers switched to a disciplined online time recording system, their billings increased by a staggering 30%! I have seen this so many times over the years. Imagine that you generated 30% more fees each month without doing more work. Well you can!
Here are the 5 golden rules of time recording:
Historically, in many older systems the user completed a Time Slip which was saved and then disappeared until billing time. The result of this was that it became a clerical function. But a great Timesheet, which serves multiple purposes, can in fact act to improve the quality of your work life and motivate staff to achieve their goals. Our Timesheet does that. It is easy to see at a glimpse what has been accomplished, what still needs to be done, and what is incomplete. Our experience has shown that when a lawyer has clear and reasonable daily time recording objectives, they will tend to achieve those objectives. Here’s how:
1. Record everything that you do, even if a file is not yet open
One of the first lessons you learn when you start a practice is the absolute need to make a contemporaneous note of every attendance. Anything less and you are putting yourself at risk. You will be doing your client and yourself a disservice and will be falling behind acceptable practice standards. But there is an upside—if you have a system for making file notes which fulfills your basic accountability obligation, then your time recording documentation can be created as a natural consequence of doing your work. It is best practice to record any notes and time allocated while you work, not afterwards.
2. Create meaningful, accurate descriptions
The instant effect that I have seen over the years is that as soon as the ‘traditional’ billing methods are abandoned and accurate records kept, more time is recorded, more revenue is billed, and more money collected. Accuracy is its own reward when it comes to time recording. Most client disputes involve money, and accurate activity and time records are absolutely the best defence against client claims of overcharging or billing misconduct.
3. Set up your charge rates in advance so that you do not have to edit at the time of billing
The Timesheet uses task codes to set the description and rate. This can save a few key strokes but there is so much more than can be done. Multiple codes can have extensive descriptions each suitable for a different area of law or a commonly called client. Auto-text allows you to create your own library of commonly used phrases; which are customised to your areas of law, your location or even for a particular client or long running matter.
4. Create a library of task descriptions to eliminate repetitive key strokes when creating time slips
The secret is that with just a little bit of planning you will save millions of key strokes a year and create high quality information from the start. There is a massive efficiency benefit if you keep good descriptions. What it means is that the information that you enter once only is re-used for billing, thereby making the billing process quicker and easier. Eliminating this work gives you more time for real billable work or for recreation and lifestyle choices.
5. Bill regularly
Many firms still endure the month-end billing cycle. Typically, this means that one day, or sometimes two days, of the month (i.e. 10 per cent of billable time!) is spent doing bills. Two whole days wasted. This is caused by poor records being created through the month and a month-end panic, to get the billing done. This is unnecessary. If time is recorded as you go, you can easily bill as soon as you are entitled to bill.
Instead of the process being a tedious, boring, re-creation of what you did, all you need to do is check and edit the data you put into the system in the first place. This will improve the quality of your work life, encourage you to bill more frequently for smaller amounts, create happier clients and eliminate all that wasted time!