September 27, 2022

Volume XII, Number 270


September 26, 2022

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Lawyer Time Tracking Tips to Boost Efficiency

Time is of the essence for law firms. Not only is accurate lawyer time tracking vital for record-keeping and tracking billable hours, but wasting time on manual tasks and following archaic processes distracts from what’s important: practicing law and growing your firm. 

Many lawyers choose to track time the old-fashioned way: manually recording their time in logs and calendars.

But this introduces the possibility of inaccurate timekeeping, missed billable hours, and — especially if your firm is large or growing — inconsistent record-keeping habits amongst your staff. As a result, you lose time, money, and even clients.

What Is Legal Time Tracking?

Legal time tracking is when a lawyer records how much time they’ve spent working for a client — whether it’s in the office, in a courtroom, or on the go. The American Bar Association (ABA) sets guidelines for legal time tracking. First-timers, especially, should:

  • Regularly check their bills. That way, you can avoid getting accused of padding hours (or essentially rounding up and overcharging clients).

  • Charge reasonable fees in accordance with Model 1.5 or your state’s equivalent. This number can help monitor your hours and share if you over or undercharged someone. 

  • Use time tracking tools to help ensure accuracy and organization. You can log your hours via your phone, computer, or tablet.

Bill4Time helps you comply with ABA and state guidelines.  

What Do Lawyers Use to Track Their Time?

Legal time tracking has evolved in the past several years. Even still, lawyers stick to “ol’ reliable” and continue the traditional method of time tracking. They’ll handwrite their billable hours and manually log their tasks on notepads, spreadsheets, and sticky notes. When lawyers use this method, they usually track their time using 10- or 15-minute increments when they enter their time at the end of the billing period — and those are big chunks of time.

Increment Billable Hours

When you set up your time-tracking system, though, figure out the time increments in which you’ll charge your clients. Think about setting up a billing chart template. It’ll help you calculate how many hours you can charge per time increments.

The standard method for lawyers is to bill every 1/10th of an hour or every six minutes. Any shorter than that can be tedious and time-consuming when you try to manually track them. Any more increments risk overcharging and padding. The six-minute increments aim to combat both of these risks.

Automated Time Tracking

The busier you get, the more difficult it is to stay organized and stay on top of logging –– even when you have a billing chart. In that case, you may want to try automated time tracking. This technology allows you to log your hours right away and track how long you’ve spent in meetings, making phone calls, writing and sending emails, and going from website to website, among other tasks.

By the end of the day, you can easily figure out what you did and how long you spent on each client. It’ll give your administration team less of a headache when you submit your hours and send clients’ invoices.

What Is Time Tracking Software?

Time tracking software is a simple and efficient way to accurately log your time working for your clients. Bad timekeeping is the culprit for more than 30% of lost billable time, and our legal time tracking software is the solution. All you need to do is start a timer on your computer, phone, or tablet and enter how much time you spent on a task.

You may think, “Well, yeah, but why do I need software to do that when I can do it on my own?”

You’d be interested to know that that’s just one benefit of having legal time tracking software, as it also offers:

  • Flexible time tracking: This feature covers recording billable and nonbillable time, separating tasks unrelated to internal non-client time and keeping track of staff, consultants, and other colleagues.

  • Staying on top of your time spent on clients: With legal time billing software, you can check your weekly time summaries, so you can gauge your firm’s financial status and productivity.

  • Easy time entry: This feature allows you to run multiple timers on one screen and account for appointments as time entries.

These features can make every billable hour count so you can charge your clients and get paid fairly.

Best Legal Time Tracking Software for Lawyers 

There’s a plethora of legal time tracking apps, so it may be overwhelming to choose one that best fits your needs. Ask yourself which features would be most important to you.

While you’re doing a search, see if the time and billing software offers:

  • Convenience: Hours, tasks, phone calls, meetings, upcoming events, and every document you can think of. Do you have to be in the office at your computer to log this information, or can you do it anywhere?

  • Accuracy: Accuracy should be one of your firm’s highest values, and the software you choose must reflect that. Does the software help your firm cut back nonbillable hours? Does it allow you to go back and make a correction if you didn’t stop your timer or need to update a client profile? If the answer is no, you may want to keep looking for technology that leaves wiggle room for human error.

  • Accessibility: See if the software produces periodic reports on timekeeping. Knowing what you’re dedicating your time to and for how long helps you make more well-informed decisions about the direction of your firm.

There’s more to a legal software app than just timekeeping, so check out the other features the software offers that keep all aspects in check. That includes case, task, and documentation management, trust accounting, invoice template customization, and system integration. 

Common Mistakes Lawyers Make with Time Tracking

No matter how convenient spreadsheets and manual time tracking seem, they leave room for inaccuracy. If inaccuracy gets through to the clients, your reputation as a brand takes a hit. 

But what aspects of manual tracking can get you into trouble? Well: 

  • You can easily lose track of time, making it easy to miscalculate your hours. That may transfer into under or overcharging your clients.

  • You end up spending more time working, which means adding nonbillable hours to your day.

If you get into a dispute with a client, you’d have a hard time proving your process and the time spent working. Legal billing software prevents you from these stressful disputes. 

Another mistake lawyers make is waiting until the end of the day to log their hours. By then, you may not even remember what you had for breakfast. How would you remember how long you spent working on a client’s case and what you covered? Make a habit of recording this information right away, so you don’t make a mistake when sending your clients their invoices. 

Having a legal time tracking app can save you time (and panic) when you have to charge your client. That way, you can easily pull up what tasks you performed and for how long when you bill your client. If there’s ever a dispute, you’ll have the evidence of your work to back up your claim right in your pocket.

Implications of Improper Lawyer Time Tracking

If you improperly track your time, the consequences may go beyond a little back and forth with your client. They could accuse you of padding, meaning you overstated how much you worked for them and are overcharging them as a result. If you and your client don’t resolve this dispute, they could sue you for legal malpractice, which could destroy your firm.

On the flip side, improper time tracking risks revenue leakage (or an unintended loss of profit for your firm). So, all that time you thought you spent being productive ends up going to waste.

If revenue leakage goes unnoticed long enough, you may not have the funds to sustain your firm, resulting in bankruptcy or even going out of business.

Tips to Improve Time Tracking

To stay on top of time tracking, implement a time tracking policy and use your resources. Think about working with:

  • Timesheets: We know it’s hard, but ditch Excel and your handwriting logs, and opt for a timesheet. Create a template that allows you to document your start and finish times on certain tasks. After a while, you may make a note of a pattern in your schedule, so you can expect a reasonable game plan every day and adjust accordingly. Review it every now and then to check your progress.

  • Calendars: Having a big calendar up in your office or on your phone helps you know what to expect in the upcoming months. A calendar can make it easier to prepare your timesheet and designate certain times to log your hours. Bill4Time offers a seamless integration with Google Calendar allowing you to make updates on either calendar that are automatically synced. 

  • Timers: Timers are a life saver for lawyers for obvious reasons, but it also helps differentiate billable hours and nonbillable hours, ensuring your firm’s integrity and precision.

The key to lawyer time tracking is making it simple. Tracking your time should be something that flows seamlessly throughout your day, no matter how many cases you’re working on.

This article was authored by Nina Lee.

©2006-2022, BILL4TIME. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 229

About this Author

Founded in 2006, Bill4Time’s cloud-based legal practice management software was created with the guidance of law and consulting firms. Now, Bill4Time is trusted by both small and large professional service firms to automate their daily tasks. Bill4Time has created simple to use, intuitive, and user-friendly software at a fraction of the cost of other legal practice management systems. With a strong focus on convenience, Bill4Time offers online access to your account and mobile apps anytime, anywhere. Bill4Time’s goal is to streamline the time tracking and billing aspect...