Understanding Timekeeper Behavior


By Todd Gerstein

CEO & Founder of Smart WebParts

When it comes to keeping time accurately, there’s a right way and a wrong way, right?

Wrong.

Though the conventional wisdom is that timekeeping is best done as events happen (known as contemporaneous timekeeping), it turns out the pain of timekeeping is so intense that most attorneys can hardly bring themselves to face their timesheets each day.

In fact, 60% of attorneys do not use contemporaneous timekeeping. More on that in a bit. But for now, let’s look at how contemporaneous timekeeping became conventional wisdom.

Logical, If You’re a Computer

Back in the 1980s, when time entry software was introduced, it was thought that the only way to be accurate and thorough was to log time contemporaneously. Experts argued that if you didn’t keep your time this way, you would leak time, as it would be impossible to remember what you did in the past, with more lost the longer you waited.

This argument won the day, and that’s how contemporaneous timekeeping became the “best practice,” earning the managing partner’s seal of approval.

Contemporaneous timekeeping is so logical, such a no-brainer, that you would think everyone would keep time contemporaneously and even be happy to do so!

But I’m an Attorney, Not a Punch Clock!

Not the case, I’m afraid. For busy, over-scheduled attorneys, this method of timekeeping requires superhuman discipline that is unattainable for most.

But, if they’re not keeping time contemporaneously, how do attorneys keep time? We set out to answer that question. In  a survey on Law Firm Timekeeping with Adam Smith Esq., the preeminent economic consulting house serving the legal profession in New York.  Here’s one data point from the survey:

It’s clear from this that a majority of attorneys–60 percent–are behaving far differently from what conventional wisdom would predict. (And what those who follow the conventional wisdom would prefer.)

No matter how hard experts have tried to convince timekeepers to keep their time contemporaneously, it just doesn’t happen. When asked why, the answers we got included “My day is too hectic,” “It breaks my rhythm,” “I prefer to do administrative tasks on off hours,” and “Lack of discipline.”

A Human Approach

Reconstruction–going back and looking at emails, appointments and phone logs–hardly seems like an ideal timekeeping method. Indeed, it’s the law firm equivalent of CSI–piecing together what happened by whatever clues are left behind. But, if that is what people are doing, that is what people are doing.

Till now, most timekeeping software was built for the contemporaneous timekeeper. The reconstructionist was totally ignored. It is time for that to change. Everybody needs to be supported. That’s our goal, because it’s almost impossible to change behavior–so you might as well support it.

Toward a More Inclusive–and Less Painful–Timekeeping System

As for the right way to do things, it should alleviate the intense pain of timekeeping that so many attorneys report.

The right way to keep time should:

  • Make timekeeping less time-consuming
  • Improve the accuracy of the entry
  • Ensure all hours are booked
  • Support multiple timekeeping behavior

Impossible? We don’t think so.

And finally, I invite you to watch the Smart Time Overview video.  Smart Time is our landmark product that reinvents timekeeping.  In two minutes we’ll show you how Smart Time can improve timekeeping and maximize your firm’s profitability by boosting billable hours.