5 Golden Rules of Time Recording

Published by Richard Hugo-Hamman

5 Golden Rules of Time Recording

In my experience, lawyers will go to incredible lengths to avoid recording time in a disciplined way. There are some wonderful, and I wish apocryphal ways that lawyers bill their clients. I have mentioned each of these in jest to lawyers over the years, and in almost every instance, a smile of recognition and guilt is their response.

Why does this happen? I think the answer is simple. In the absence of a sensible system, making contemporaneous notes and time recording are both boring activities. But they need not be so.

For the past 30 years I have been reading articles by the commentarial 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 Time sheet 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 learns when you start a practice is the absolute need to make a contemporaneous note of every attendance. Only a sensible note made contemporaneously, can pass the best evidence test. 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, and that is, if you have a system for making contemporaneous notes which fulfils your basic accountability obligation, then your time recording records can be created as a natural consequence of doing your work. But you really must act contemporaneously.

2. Create meaningful, accurate descriptions contemporaneously

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 have money at their heart, 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, 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, sometimes even two days of the month (IE 10% 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, often driven from the accounts department, 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 laborious, boring, re-creation of what you did, all you need 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!