Keeping track of time spent on case research, briefs, client meetings, the discovery process, and other billable tasks is a big part of a lawyer’s day-to-day work and a firm’s revenue. Lawyers often devise their own method of tracking time, but that may not be the most accurate or reliable compared to other legal time tracking methods.
Forgetting to start or stop a timer, losing track of billable time, waiting until the end of the day or week, or “guesstimating” time spent on a case can not only cost the lawyer and firm money, but it may have legal implications. Without a reliable and consistent timekeeping process, law firms are prone to risks and organizational challenges like poor productivity and profitability.
How Do Lawyers Track Their Time?
Despite the increasing adoption of legal management solutions, many law firms still rely on more traditional, manual methods of calculation to charge clients by the billable hour. With this method, time is typically constructed in 10- or 15-minute increments. This time may be captured on spreadsheets, sticky notes, notepads, or other paper methods.
While it may seem convenient, this process of tracking time is inaccurate at best, and unethical at worst. It’s far too easy for lawyers to lose track of their time or make errors that can lead to inaccurate billing, client concerns, and a damaged reputation for both the lawyer and the firm.
If that’s not enough, manual time tracking is a cumbersome process. It takes extra time to track time using manual methods – time that isn’t billable. In addition, if there’s a dispute, lawyers have no way to show their process or account for the time spent on casework.
What Are the Risks of Improper Legal Time Tracking?
Lawyers open themselves and the firm to many risks when time tracking is done improperly, such as:
1. Losing Billable Time (and Revenue)
Billable hours are the bread and butter for a law firm, but they have to be accurate. No matter how stringent the processes, it’s highly probable that lawyers will forget to start or stop time, lose billable hours, or make inaccurate estimates.
According to the American Bar Association, lawyers can lose up to 10% of their billable time if they wait until the end of the day to log hours. If they wait longer, such as a day or two, that time lost can increase up to 25%.
With legal time tracking software, lawyers can quickly and easily set timers, record multiple time entries on one screen, and automatically convert appointments into time entries. Both billable and non-billable time is tracked and recorded when it happens, providing more precision and accuracy in billing.
2. Vulnerability to Billing Disputes
When lawyers use manual methods to track billable hours, there’s no accountability for their time. If a client questions the bill or believes the lawyer is “padding it,” the lawyer can’t adequately account for the time spent on case research, the discovery process, or other billable tasks.
A comprehensive record of time produces an auditable trail that can be referenced for billing disputes or questions. For example, a block of hours spent on discovery doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence from the client. Shorter, detailed time blocks, such as “one hour spent researching legal precedent” and “10 minutes responding to email from the opposing counsel,” help clients understand how the time was spent. It’s also easier to cross-reference some of this time with recorded appointments or correspondence.
3. High Administrative Costs
Manually tracking time costs productivity, as do manual billing processes. Often, firms have designated staff to sort through the timekeeping records for the firm’s lawyers, organize them, input them into a billing system, and send invoices to clients. Between the two, a lot of non-billable time is spent merely processing client bills.
Time tracking software streamlines and automates these processes to not only reduce errors and discrepancies but to help lawyers and staff save time and manpower. Lawyers can automatically track and sort their hours according to the case, client, or billable and non-billable time, simplifying the organization process for billing staff.
4. Decreased Client Experience
Clients seek out law firms for legal guidance and expertise, but the experience they have with the firm is what stays with them. Even if the outcome of the case isn’t what they had hoped, they remember how they were treated
And that includes billing.
Trust is important in the lawyer-client relationship. If clients have doubts about the accuracy of their bill or are overcharged, that can have a detrimental impact on the firm’s reputation. Having accurate, detailed, and transparent timekeeping and billing processes inspire trust and confidence from the client, and in turn, a better experience with the firm.
Accurate timekeeping is also a matter of professional ethics. According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.5, the guidelines for fees in a professional legal relationship include the proper consideration of the time and labor necessary for a matter. Keeping accurate and detailed records are one-way lawyers can adhere to these guidelines.
What Is Time Tracking Software?
Designed for the legal industry, time tracking software is a tool that allows lawyers to input, organize, and record the time spent on billable and non-billable tasks. These tools are designed specifically for the needs of lawyers to provide granular details and improve workflows.
Lawyers often handle tasks for multiple clients or cases each day, which can create confusion and mistakes. Legal time tracking for lawyers helps to simplify and streamline the timekeeping process to reduce missed hours or billing errors.
Bill4Time is a law practice management platform that allows law firms to seamlessly track their time. Multiple timers improve billable hour accuracy by allowing you to start and stop as you jump between client matters.
Automate Time Tracking for Lawyers
Accurate time tracking is the lifeblood of a law firm to remain profitable, yet many lawyers still prefer chaotic manual methods that can lead to over- or underbilling, ambiguity, or client concerns. With the right tools, time tracking for lawyers can be an easy part of the workflow. A legal management platform with timekeeping tools can help lawyers track time with transparency and accountability.