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Process Improvement Tips

5 Tips to Make Time Entry Less Painful for Lawyers

By David Skinner and Karen Skinner

If the billable hour is a zombie we just can’t kill, then timesheets are the monsters lurking under your desk every single day. Here are our top tips for streamlining your time entry process so it’s much less painful (and you can stop losing money).

The Horror

One of our clients once tracked how much time she spent entering her time and applied her billable rate. How much do you think it was across a year?

$30,000!

Yes. This partner was spending the equivalent of $30,000 of billable hours doing her time entries. We know other attorneys who are so late entering their time that large chunks of revenue go uncollected because it’s just too late to bill the clients.

Stop Losing Money!

Time entry is the only way most lawyers get paid … and yet some delay and procrastinate to the point where time and revenue are lost for good. In fact, for many lawyers in our coaching programs, avoiding time entry is a major driver behind their switch to flat fees.

(We talked about all this and more in our recent webinar, “Fearless Flat Fees,” with the folks at AltFee, You can catch the replay here.)

How to Streamline the Time Entry Process

The thing is, even if you switch to flat fees, you may still need to track your time while you get started, at least in a high-level way. So whether you’re moving to flat fees or sticking with hourly billing, streamlining your law firm time entry process will increase your revenue and decrease your frustration.

Here are our five top tips for making the time entry process a lot less painful.

1. Use an Automatic Tme-Tracking Platform

Some practice management systems have built-in time trackers. We’re not talking timers. We’re talking smart systems that track your activity across platforms like Word, your calendar, email or meeting systems. With just a click, you can add that time automatically to a file. One we’re exploring right now is Ajax. It’s still in its infancy, but we’ve seen a demo, and it looks really interesting. Not only does it track time, but it also uses AI to write billing narratives and assign time to files.

2. Make Contemporaneous Time Entry Part of Your Culture

A managing partner once told us his philosophy: If you’re not entering your time at least daily, you’re either cheating your clients or you are cheating the firm.

Neither one is good.

An article in the ABA Legal Technology Report warns that if you don’t enter your time daily, you’re losing 10%. If you don’t get it in the next day, you’re losing 25%. And if you wait until the end of the week, you’ll miss 50% of your time.

Basically, if you don’t enter your time immediately, you’re making up what’s in your timesheets, and you’re losing a LOT of money.

3. Use Billing Codes

Using a set of standard codes will speed up time entry. You can use the ABA’s uniform task codes or create your own. Bill4Time has a great article on task codes here. Keep it simple — if your codes are too granular, people will waste time trying to figure out which ones apply and end up even more frustrated. Standard codes will keep your billing consistent and minimize the minutes you have to spend entering time and reviewing your pre-bills. Anything you do to make the process faster and easier will help you capture more time.

4. Standardize Your Billing Narratives

If your system allows, create drop-down menus with standardized descriptions for your invoices. You’ll likely still need to allow for some customization, but keep it to a minimum. Strive to have your narratives as standard as possible. It’s much faster to choose from a selection than to write a narrative yourself, and it’s easier for clients to understand.

5. Use Your Phone!

Most practice management platforms allow for mobile time tracking. Clio, MyCase, TimeSolv and Toggl, for example, allow you to track time on your phone when you’re away from your desk, in court, at a client meeting or working remotely.

There’s Value in Streamlining Your Time Entry Process

Improving your time entry process is an exercise in reducing the friction that keeps you from entering time right away. But if you still feel like you don’t have time to record your time when you’re finishing one task and moving to the next, you may need a mindset shift. Go back to tip No. 2 and remind yourself that if you don’t record time immediately, you are losing money.

Taking a minute to enter your time is not wasteful … it’s a revenue-generating activity.


More Process Improvement Tips:


Karen Dunn Skinner and David Skinner help lawyers and legal professionals build more efficient, productive and profitable practices. They’re the co-founders of Gimbal Lean Practice Management Advisors and lawyers with over 20 years of experience each in Canada and Europe. Together, they’re the exclusive Global Advisors on Legal Process Improvement to the International Institute of Legal Project Management. They write and speak regularly, facilitate legal process improvement projects across North America, and have taught Gimbal’s LeanLegal® approach to thousands of legal professionals.


Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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