10 Golden Laws to Legal Time Keeping
One of the biggest factors to the overall success of any law firm is timekeeping. Keeping track of time accurately isn’t just important for billable time. It’s also important for managing your working time as well. Setting realistic goals, reminders, and making the process a habit is the best way to reap the benefits of consistent time keeping for yourself, your firm, and your clients.
Lawyers who attempt to reconstruct their time on a weekly basis tend to lose 25 to 30 percent of their billable time. Lawyers who only enter their time on a monthly basis can lose as much as 55 to 70 percent of billable time. If you’re consistently behind on keeping track of your time it can mean losing out on thousands of dollars for you and for your firm. By keeping contemporaneous notes you can experience the following benefits for yourself and your law firm.
Unload Your Mental Ram
Free up your mind by writing things down immediately after they occur. Doing so means you won’t have to exert extra effort to remember every little thing. Consistently unloading your mental Ram means you will become less stressed and able to think more clearly. To receive the full benefits of clearing your mind be sure to organize where you write things down. You don’t want to add stress by not being able to find anything you write down.
Reminders of What to Focus on
Getting caught up in everyday business and losing track of what’s important is one of the challenges of being a lawyer. Keeping yourself busy with low priority tasks doesn’t have to be inevitable. Instead write down low priority and high priority tasks to help you focus on more important tasks and keep the big picture in mind. Taking contemporaneous notes of low priority and high priority tasks regularly allows you to avoid the trouble of keeping everything you have to do straight in your head.
Writing down a thought means you’re focusing on the main idea of your thought. Research shows that it’s not possible to hold another thought as you’re writing a different one. It’s this effect that helps you add clarity as you write things down. When you write things down you can use your mind for thinking more clearly as opposed to remembering. By taking contemporaneous notes you will find it’s easier to make new connections and solve more problems.
Different Types of Note Takers
It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find statistics which illustrate the importance for lawyers to avoid missing out on billable time. Regardless of what statistics say and the benefits of taking contemporaneous notes, many law firms continue to have chronic offenders. Generally there are four types of timekeepers in the legal field.
The “Perfectionist” Time Keepers
This type of time keeper is a perfectionist that is punctual and accurate with their time keeping most of the time. They are always ahead of colleagues who are not as meticulous as they are. These types of time keepers enter their time daily and rarely lose billable time. Unfortunately this type of time keepers which are consistently punctual with their billing time can be rare. Having a firm full of this type of time keeper can mean reaching maximum productivity and being as efficient as possible.
Procrastinating Time Keepers
These time keepers rarely take contemporaneous notes due to the fact that they require pressure and a deadline to motivate them to enter their time in. A procrastinating time keeper may be behind a couple days at a time and require frequent prompting and reminders to ensure they don’t become too far behind. However they generally have 90% or more of their time entered each week and never really become a problem as long as they have frequent reminders to enter their time in.
The Last Minute Time Keepers
The last minute time keepers may be behind several days at a time. Without consistent reminders and prompting they may fall really behind for a short while. Without follow up a last minute time keeper may cause problems for themselves and the firm. Having a firm full of this type of time keepers may become costly. It’s common for these types of time keepers to be behind several days and even a week at a time before they decide to take entering time in more seriously. However they may enter their time in on time for a short while before going back to their old habits.
Their Own Worst Enemy
The last type of time keeper is the worst but usually not the most common (thankfully). A time keeper who becomes their own worst enemy is a lawyer who is busy and obviously working all of their hours but for whatever reason falls behind on recording all of their time. This type of time keeper can be behind weeks at a time. Unfortunately being behind so much has an additional negative effect. This additional negative effect causes the lawyer to become concerned that supervising attorneys will think entered time is excessive so they record less billable time. This can become very costly for firms.
No matter what type of time keepers you have at your firm taking contemporaneous notes doesn’t have to be a challenge. No matter what type of time keepers you have at your firm you can see a slow but steady increase of productivity in your lawyer’s time keeping habits using practical and helpful tips. Though disciplined time recording may not be every lawyers strength, implementing the following 10 “laws” of contemporaneous note taking you can see an improvement in your time keeper’s habits.
- Record Even If a File is Not Open Yet
When you’re trying to take notes on legal actions taken and there isn’t a file yet, where do you put your notes? There are some lawyers who miss out on billable time simply because a file hasn’t been created yet. Busy firms that find themselves behind on creating their case files often find themselves missing out on billable time. However this can be easily avoided by creating a temporary file until the official one has been created. If creating a temporary file for each client seems stressful, it may be easier to have one file for all unopened file clients so you can organize things into official files later. That way staying organized and finding your notes becomes much easier.
- Take it One Thing at a Time
When you begin to feel overwhelmed at all the different things you have to do, take a step back and start taking things one thing at a time. Doing so will keep you from being overwhelmed. Don’t think you must enter everything at the end of the day. Entering notes contemporaneously you will avoid overwhelming yourself and will be able to recall more details and feel more productive. By entering things in small increments you give yourself smaller doses of a feeling of accomplishment which will keep you from becoming burned out.
- Keep up The Habit
The best way to make taking contemporaneous notes a habit is to keep trying. Don’t let minor setbacks make you give up. Even if you you forget some of your time on a particular day, don’t give up on taking notes contemporaneously. Having to recall a few hours’ worth of work is more accurate than having to backtrack your time days or even weeks back.
- Maintain a Library of Task Descriptions
There are certain tasks that you will end up writing the same descriptions over and over again. The main purpose behind maintaining a library of task descriptions is to eliminate the work behind having to rewrite similar descriptions over and over again. The trick behind time keeping is to know which tasks need to be added to a library of tasks and which tasks need meaningful descriptions.
- Create Interesting Descriptions
You will have certain tasks that have the same description and other tasks that will require more meaningful and interesting descriptions. If you bill clients for the same tasks and never include unique descriptions, you run the risk of being accused of overcharging your clients.
- Don’t Underestimate the Power of Reminders
The idea of setting up a reminder may sound ridiculous but can free up even more of your mental ram. Simple things such as placing a sticky note on the inside of a drawer, the inside of your office door, or on a computer screen can help make taking contemporaneous notes much easier.
- Set up Charge Rates in Advance
By setting up a time keeping template you can pre-set your charge rates so that they never had to be edited more than once. It’s important to save multiple copies in a folder incase of your copies gets edited over or the template is somehow lost. By doing so you’ll save time and find it easier to take contemporaneous notes.
- Aim to Be The Best Time Keeper
When you have to go back and check emails or rely on memory to reconstruct your time, you are either robbing yourself or overcharging your client. Everyone is motivated by different things. Some of these things are money, praise, or competition. There are some people who work best when they aspire to be the best. Whatever motivates you keep this mind or place it on a sticky note so you can maintain your contemporaneous note keeping habits in the long run.
- Remind Yourself of The Reason Why you’re Doing This
There are many lawyers who view entering time as an administrative task that gets paid. Though this is true it’s important to remind yourself of the importance behind billing accurately and the firm’s ability to generate income. Firms that are strict on keeping contemporaneous notes of all billable time can generate anywhere from 25 to 40 percent higher revenues than firms that do not keep track of time contemporaneously.
- Bill Regularly
Anywhere from one to two days of the month can be spent doing bills when poor records are created through the month. By recording time as you go you can bill as soon as you are ready and avoid feeling that the process behind maintaining contemporaneous notes is a boring recreation of what you did. By maintaining notes contemporaneously you’ll be able to do a quick edit and bill more frequently for smaller amounts. Billing more frequently also has the added benefit of keeping clients happy and makes them less likely to complain of being overcharged.
When a sensible online system is absent taking contemporaneous notes can be both boring and a challenge. This doesn’t have to be the case though. A study by an American Bar Association a few years ago showed that lawyers who switched to an online time recording system saw an increase in their billings up to 30%. The best part is that this extra income is generated without doing any additional work. Considering the fact that the biggest factor of success in a law firm is time keeping, adopting an online system can be one of the most crucial elements of success in every law firm.