Why don’t solicitors record all of their time with confidence?
Having worked with solicitors for 25 years I am pleased to report that they have a conscience and that they worry about recording time to files where there is a belief that it may not be right for the client to be charged for this time. The impact at the end of the matter is that the time records do not reflect the true cost of delivering the work and both the client and the solicitor are unable to see the true extent of what has been done. This inevitably leads to considerable under charging.
The basic problem is that solicitors confuse time recording with billing and therefore provide two discounts; the first at the point of recording and the second at the point of billing. So what practical steps can be taken to deal with this problem?
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1. The first step is to issue a time recording policy which refers to the need for all time to be recorded as matter or non-matter related time as opposed to chargeable and non-chargeable time. Any reference to chargeable time clearly confuses what is primarily a costing system with the billing process which happens later.
2. Show fee earners how to write more positive narratives which communicate the positive benefit to the client rather than the internal process being undertaken by the fee earner. Below are a few examples of the traditional narratives used by solicitors and the more “client friendly” narratives that might be used which should give solicitors more confidence to record their time and to communicate it to clients.
|Traditional Narrative||“Client friendly” narrative|
|Preparing estimate||Planning the work to ensure efficient approach|
|Filing||Reviewing and updating file|
|Research||Consideration of … with a view to ….|
|Supervision||Review and finalisation of ….|
|Billing||Keeping you informed on costs and provision of final bill|
3. Identify a way in which fee earners can flag a time entry with a “billing note” so that if there is any concern about how recorded time is to be billed this will be highlighted at the point of billing. This is important for both trainees who might worry about putting time down if they feel they have been inefficient and for senior people who might recognise that the time they have recorded on the file is of particularly high value. These billing notes can be reviewed at the end of the matter to ensure that the client is billed fairly for the work that has been done. Some firms now have time recording systems with an extra field where these billing notes can be recorded but most firms will put such notes at the end of the narrative but in a distinctive format so that they can be easily spotted when reviewing a file for billing.
Given how hard most solicitors work to provide advice to clients it is worrying that normally under 1,000 hours a year are recorded to files which amounts to only half of each working day. Try implementing the three practical steps above and review the outcome. Hopefully they will result in significantly higher recorded hours which can be billed.
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