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    In this blog we will share our thoughts on timekeeping, industry best practices and how technology can help improve the process.

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The 7 New Rules for Effective Law Firm Timekeeping

Todd Gerstein
Founder & CEO, Smart WebParts

In this competitive world, it no longer works to have a disorganized approach to your firm’s timekeeping. Firms that don’t make effective timekeeping a priority – from both the business process and technology angles – are losing money, increasing attorney frustration and compromising timesheet quality.

Based upon our experience and research, I’ve come up with a list of “new rules” for our times. The rules boil down to achieving these objectives:

  • Improve the timekeeping experience
  • Enhance the accuracy of the entry
  • Ensure all hours are booked

With those objectives in mind, here are the new rules for effective law firm timekeeping.

1. Stop trying to change your timekeeper’s behavior

A timekeeper’s behavior is very hard to change. (It is easier to influence new associates, but what about everybody else?) Timekeepers are human, which means they have different personalities — and therefore different behaviors — that are intrinsic to who they are. Our pediatrician used to tell us our kids came factory wired. Ditto for lawyers.

For 25 years, the conventional wisdom has been to compel everyone to keep their time contemporaneously. That never happened. Our research proves over and over again that contemporaneous timekeeping hovers around 40% of the population.  The new rule calls for fitting the tools to the timekeeper’s behavior, whether they be  contemporaneous, reconstructionist or collaborative timekeepers. This enables every behavior type to find timekeeping success.

2. Offer different timekeeping tools for different types of behavior

Trying to force contemporaneous software tools on a reconstructionist just won’t work. It’s not just inconvenient or difficult for the reconstructionist – it’s impossible.

Knowing this, you realize that if you want accurate, compliant timesheets, you need to find a system that offers a spectrum of software tools to suit all behaviors. Time capture to help the reconstructionist. Timers for contemporaneous behavior. Desktop systems for the attorney while they are in the office. Mobile systems for timekeepers who are out of the office or on the go.

3. Make time capture essential

No matter the behavior, the timekeeping tool that helps most and must be a component of any timekeeping system is time capture. This is the only way to ensure that all hours worked are booked into the system.

Time capture increases revenue by capturing billable time that is missed or underreported. It does this by monitoring firm systems and the desktop for documents, phone calls, email, appointments, research and more. It then provides the timekeeper with a journal of the day’s activities.

While reconstructionists benefit most from time capture, other timekeepers can use it to improve accuracy, and find lost units when they’ve been particularly busy multi-tasking or out of the office. Think of it as a timekeeping safety net. Not to mention the benefit of making it feel easier to enter time.

4. Prioritize accuracy

The attorney-client relationship is changing, with clients wanting more transparency and value than ever before. That’s why it has never been more important that bills accurately portray the activity and value of the work completed. The information provided by time capture will help the attorney compose better time entry narratives.

5. Enable your timekeepers to keep time anywhere

Without a doubt, the world has gone mobile. Everywhere you go, people are working and communicating using mobile devices like Smartphones and tablets. Whether they’re in court, on the road or at a soccer game, attorneys are working many hours outside the office and need their timekeeping software to be available everywhere. That’s now possible, either through a remote connection into the firm (for desktop applications) or on a smartphone or tablet.

Attorneys are busy people with many demands on them outside the office. But billable hours should not go unbooked because of a timekeeping system that lacks the flexibility to keep time anywhere.

6. Focus on technology

The technology to handle such a long wish list of features is now available to law firms. (Disclosure and shameless plug: We offer a product called Smart Time that fills the bill.) And, more than ever, updated technology must be a part of addressing the inefficiencies and challenges of law firm timekeeping.

Simply, great software technology can improve the timekeeping experience. Since timekeeping  is a major source of pain for timekeepers, whatever you can do to limit and reduce that pain will bring a huge and immediate return on investment for the firm and relief to your timekeepers.

7. Create a culture of compliance

To get timesheets in on time you’ve got to have a plan  that is non-negotiable, consistent and has explicit  expectations. Culturally, firms that have made timesheet compliance a priority are the most successful at achieving compliance.

Those who struggle have problems with inconsistent methodologies, unclear expectations and a culture that doesn’t value timesheet compliance.

A system can help a great deal, offering the right tools for a variety of behaviors. But without the culture, nothing will stick. We think the most effective strategy is that timesheets are due weekly, each Monday at noon for the prior week.  At month’s end, they are due the next day by close of business.

Conclusion

With these rules in mind, any firm can substantially improve both the business process and the actual technology of timekeeping.

We are at one of those moments where technology can revolutionize something that has been inefficient and painfully for  as long as the profession has existed; there are no more excuses for doing things “the way they’ve always been done.”

Apply these rules and find more billable hours, more accurate entries, fewer late timesheets and happier attorneys.  A true renaissance in timekeeping.