Time and Billing

Kathy Fortin

December 15, 2018

Time and Billing

Does your small law firm have a Time Recording Policy? If not, it is likely the case that each timekeeper has his or her own method and habit of recording their time and that inconsistencies in practice are a problem.

I can count many law firms we have worked with over the past year who have raised the issue of time recording practices. One of the chief complaints is inconsistency in how time is input, sometimes resulting in arduous efforts to run down all timekeepers in order to generate a client bill. Some input their time daily, while others get around to it once a week. The worst habit is waiting to do it at the end of the month! Some input time directly into a time and billing system, while others write it down on a sheet and a legal assistant or bookkeeper is required to enter it later.

Another complaint is the amount of time spent on correcting pre-bills. Month after month, changes are required to be made by a paralegal, a legal assistant, a bookkeeper, or a lawyer -- or all of them -- to achieve a presentable bill to the client. An example is the pre-bill that may have several timekeeper entries referring to the client as: “Mr. Smith,” “Client,” and “John.” Wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to have everyone involved in generating client bills to track all the administrative time involved in doing so?

Given inconsistency is the problem, the solution is to adopt a set of standards that are understood and followed by all timekeepers. The important components are:

  1. Time needs to be recorded timely. It is well know that time is lost if not recorded contemporaneous with when it was performed. Recording time as you perform the work is preferable. At each day’s end is acceptable. Waiting a day or two, or doing it once a week, is not acceptable.
  2. Create a set of abbreviations and usage terms, such as always use “Mr. or Mrs. Smith.” Never use “Client.” There might be twenty that are the most commonly used. Once everyone uses the same terms time on pre-bill corrections will be saved.
  3. Record all time. Young lawyers and paralegals especially do not always record all time spent on client matters. The lawyer or partner has the option to later adjust the time charge, if warranted.
  4. Make the entries substantive. The tendency is to record a mechanical function and not relate it to the substantive effort that underlies the work.

Once the written policy is developed, it is best to introduce it at a meeting of all firm members. The start of this coming new year is an ideal opportunity to address the subject and to get everyone started on a better footing. When everyone understands the importance of paying attention to timekeeping, I guarantee it will save you time and you will realize how easy the process becomes. Why not make it a resolution to improve on this fundamental process in your firm and experience the difference for yourself?