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Oct 24

Tips to Improve Attorney Timekeeping

TimekeepingTimekeeping is a necessary evil for every law firm. Even attorneys who work on contingency fee arrangements need to keep adequate documentation of their time in order to obtain court-awarded fees. Additionally, lawyers who charge on a fixed-fee basis should also track their hours to provide accurate time estimates, confirm they are charging appropriate fees and evaluate profitability on clients. So, how can you encourage your attorneys to better track their time?

Adapt to Personal Styles
For years, attorneys have been harangued about the importance of recording their time contemporaneously. However, instead of insisting they change their behaviors, consider adapting your timekeeping tools to coordinate with those behaviors.

Technology can simplify timekeeping tasks to make it less overwhelming; making the task easier generally provides better results. This could mean providing timers for those who do record contemporaneously, time-capture tools for those who will reconstruct their time sheets at a later time and mobile tools for those who accrue significant billable time out of the office. A plethora of technology is available to help professionals capture time and expenses, and many of these software programs and apps could be compatible with the firm’s financial framework. Whatever 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, customize the task descriptions in the software if possible.

It is also important that your tools are capable of effective time capture. Attorneys typically juggle multiple responsibilities, which could lead them to forget to enter time or under-report time. Time capture capabilities monitor firm systems and attorneys’ devices for documents, phone calls, appointments, email/messaging 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 as reminders. The lawyer will still need to eventually evaluate the program’s findings, quantify the time spent and record the time.

Make it Worth Their While
It is easy to look at timekeeping as an administrative headache, but your mission is to encourage attorneys to see it as much more. For example, 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 billed. You could also provide some type of incentive for recording their time, even if it is only the knowledge that their performance evaluations will take into account compliance with the firm’s timekeeping standards. Some firms use negative reinforcement for those who do not submit their time promptly—“no time submitted, no paycheck distributed” could be a drastic, yet effective penalty.

Consistency is essential. Attorneys are more likely to comply if performance measurements are consistent from month to month and from attorney to attorney. If they are evaluated (and potentially awarded) on hours billed one month, but on realization the next month, then they will have not 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. For both retainer and fixed-fee clients, billable hours help evaluate if the firm is earning an appropriate margin or if the client is high demand and low return, suggesting that perhaps the firm’s resources are best utilized elsewhere. Peer pressure can play a powerful role in getting lawyers to comply with timekeeping expectations as well. Those at the top of the firm must make it clear that timekeeping compliance is an organization-wide priority, non-negotiable and results in consequences for non-compliance.

Do Not Waste Time
The measures above can help your minimize time “slippage,” or billable time that never makes it onto clients’ bills. After all, unbilled time is time and money lost.

For more information on improving timekeeping practices at your law firm, contact Joel Herman at, or call him at 312-670-7444. Visit to learn more about our Law Firm Group.
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