Cracking The Time Recording Nut
For a very long time, solicitors have struggled to record their time properly. This failure causes enormous problems at the point of billing a client when inconsistencies between fee earners become apparent and it also means that firms have no real idea of the cost of their services and hence struggle to provide clients with realistic and reliable estimates.
Most of the detailed problems stem from the fact that solicitors see time recording as part of an external billing process rather than as part of an internal costing system. Generations of solicitors have therefore only recorded time which they feel can be billed, rather than recording the full cost of the matter, being the total time actually taken. An example of this would be the failure to capture supervision time of junior staff during a matter because it is viewed as unchargeable. This may be the agreement with the client but the firm should still record the cost of doing the work so that this can be shared with the client at the end. If a firm is unable to show a client the work done then the client feels no guilt. If the firm can show the client what has been done then the client will feel guilty and is more likely to be happy to pay a larger fee.
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So how do good firms go about improving time capture? There are a number of simple things that can lead to dramatic changes:
- Write, issue and discuss a time recording policy for the firm. The policy needs to be short and memorable rather than long and forgettable! It should define what is meant by “total” time capture, provide guidance on how to write narratives in a more “client friendly” way and fully explain how “billing notes” can be added to a time entry for consideration at the billing stage.
- Make sure that everyone has a target for time recorded which they are aware of and then make sure that feedback is given to individuals on a regular basis to make sure that they are achieving and beating targets.
- Train everyone when they join the firm on the expectations of the time recording policy and then remind people about these requirements on a regular basis.
- Appoint a time recording “champion” who is responsible for ensuring full time capture. Fee earners who are put under pressure to under record time by more senior fee earners should report this fact to the “champion” who would then be responsible for dealing with the issue.
- Encourage fee earners to leave time sheets open every night and then close them first thing the following morning. Many fee earners go home at night having closed their timesheet only then to do more work via their mobile or Blackberry. For some fee earners this could average more than one hour a day of time that is not recorded so it makes sense to ensure that it is recorded by thinking about overnight time first thing every morning.
If you force partners and fee earners to concentrate on better time recording by doing the above it is not difficult to generate an increase in time recorded, most of which will subsequently be billed. Over the last year, many firms have experienced a fall in volumes of work which has hit their results; the easiest way to deal with this drop in volumes is to fix it with fuller time recording.
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