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Strategy Brief: No More Excuses: Making Timekeeping Compliance Non-Negotiable

Todd Gerstein
CEO & Founder
Smart WebParts

Before I lay out my five-point plan to fix compliance, let’s look at the most common excuses. Not surprisingly, timekeeping excuses cut right to the pain and angst of the problem.

Excuses, Excuses…

For attorneys, timekeeping is hard because:

  • Keeping time is unnatural. Who thinks of their day in six-minute increments? No one, that’s who. It can seem like pure absurdity to have to track and enter every task one does in a workday.
  • I want to practice law. Attorneys want to practice law, not justify their day to the client and/or the firm, even though they know their law firm is a business.
  • It breaks my rhythm. The process requires a kind of meta-attention that few people possess. It requires the awareness to know that you need to stop your primary task so that you can do the secondary timekeeping task. It interrupts the natural flow of work and creates a distraction that is hard to recover from. .

Attorneys aren’t just making up excuses. There are legitimate reasons why it is hard to keep time. It’s not that these reasons don’t exist; it’s that they can’t matter.

Once you’ve given them the equivalent of a hug and a “there, there,” it’s time to remind them: Yes, your excuses are legitimate, but you are an attorney and this is a business and so…they can’t matter. Nothing can get in the way of timely, accurate timekeeping.

The Plan: Make Timekeeping Non-Negotiable

But how, you ask?

We know, from our research and discussions with firms, that the firms with the greatest success in timekeeping create a culture of compliance. They do so by keeping expectations about timekeeping non-negotiable, consistent and clear. They also include incentives and/or penalties for enforcement.

What steps can you take to emulate the firms with successful timekeeping cultures?

  1. Policy. You must have a firmwide policy that outlines the rules everyone must follow for time entry processes. Daily by 10 a.m. or every Monday for the preceding week, for example.
  2. Provide the best tools and technology. Make sure you have an up-to-date timekeeping system that includes time capture, time entry and mobility wrapped up into one software package.
  3. Partners. Partners can’t play by different rules. Even if they have secretaries who help out with time entries, they must lead on this issue.
  4. Problem attorneys. Don’t ignore the attorneys who feel that they can get away with flouting the policy. Have the partners take swift action to deal with these folks, so that everyone is aware that non-compliance won’t be tolerated.
  5. Penalties. The punishment we’ve uncovered that works best for firms seems to be penalties that affect an attorney’s year-end review. Include timekeeping skills in the attorney’s assessment.

An End to the Excuses…

Timesheet compliance can sometimes seem like a battle not worth fighting, especially when your best attorneys offer up such convincing reasons why it is difficult for them to keep time. But fixing your compliance issues is imperative, and, as you’ve seen, actually fairly straightforward. All it takes is a commitment from firm leadership to make the culture of compliance a reality.

And, if enthusiasm for establishing the culture wanes, remember: When attorneys make excuses about timekeeping, firms lose money. It’s that simple. While it’s not easy to get attorneys to comply, it is also very simple: Do it. No excuses. (You might also remind them that timekeeping is part and parcel of being an attorney!)

Support compliance using the plan outlined above, and you’ll have happier attorneys, less revenue leakage, and maybe best of all, an end to the excuses.