Billable hours are at the heart of any successful law firm, but far too many attorneys still treat tracking and billing for those hours as an afterthought or a dreaded task to put off until the last minute.
This hesitance when it comes to implementing better time tracking practices is understandable. After all, attorneys practice law, and anything that distracts them from the client matters at hand can feel like busywork. Rather than stopping throughout the day to carefully record their time, many prefer to simply jot down their “best estimate” before they head home.
But taking a laissez-faire approach to time tracking can impact your firm’s profitability and ability to make informed business decisions. Thankfully, keeping track of your time doesn’t need to be difficult. With the right approach and software tools, your attorneys and staff can spend less time tracking their hours while increasing the accuracy of their time tracking.
Why accurate time tracking is key
Many attorneys still jot down their hours by hand at the end of the day (or sometimes, even the end of the week). This may seem like the least intrusive way to track hours, but it also comes with significant downsides.
First, attorneys who track their hours by hand are much more likely to lose track of billable time, especially if they’re relying on memory to make time entries. In fact, attorneys who wait until the end of the day to record their hours lose around 10% of their billable time. Attorneys who wait till the end of the week tend to lose even more.
Over the course of a whole month or year, that can add up to a lot of lost revenue.
Second, tracking your hours by hand or making time entries inconsistently makes accurate invoicing more difficult. When it comes time for your firm to send its invoices for the month, you’ll have to track down your handwritten time entries and manually enter them into your invoices. And if those entries get lost? You may be forced to write off billable time because you can’t remember exactly how many hours you worked.
Finally, accurate time tracking facilitates better reporting and allows your firm to gain valuable insights into its productivity and profitability. Without accurate records of how many hours your attorneys are spending on billable vs. non-billable work, it’s hard to get a sense of how efficient your firm’s processes are. Comprehensive time tracking is also key to setting profitable rates, especially if your firm is offering alternative fee arrangements, like flat-fee billing. If you aren’t tracking the number of hours a particular matter type takes to complete, you’ll have no way to set profitable fees and ensure that these matters stay on budget.
Five tips for better law firm time tracking
Overhauling your firm’s approach to time tracking can seem like a challenge, especially if your attorneys are comfortable with their habits. If you want to improve timekeeping practices at your firm, break the process down into actionable steps.
These time tracking tips and best practices help your attorneys track their time more quickly and accurately without turning time tracking into a daily hassle.
1. Invest in a law firm time tracking software
If you haven’t already, the single greatest step you can take toward better time tracking at your law firm is to implement digital time tracking tools. Whereas pen and paper time entries are easily lost and must be manually entered into invoices later, the right time tracking software can allow your attorneys to seamlessly track time as they work using timers.
For example, a good legal practice management software should allow you to start and stop timers or create time entries from anywhere in the software, or even track time directly from your email and document software tools. This way, your attorneys can always track time seamlessly as they work, without dropping what they’re doing to make a new time entry.
These time entries can also be attached directly to matters so you can use them to populate invoices and ensure accuracy. Your attorneys and billing team will save valuable time during invoice creation, you’ll eliminate the chance of data entry errors on invoices, and you’ll make it much easier for attorneys and staff to keep accurate, comprehensive timekeeping records as they work.
2. Block out your tasks ahead of time
Creating a prioritized to-do list of each day’s task is a great time management tip to begin with—but it can also help you track time more accurately and with less hassle.
If you start each day by laying out the projects and tasks you plan to work on, you can even create a separate time entry for each before you get started. That way, as you move between tasks, you can simply switch timers and seamlessly track your time without losing minutes in-between.
3. Make time entries immediately
Whether you’re tracking time using timers or making time entries after the fact, it’s important to enter time as soon as possible. It’s tempting to power through the day and worry about time tracking later, but trying to keep your hours straight in your head leads to lost billable time.
Make it a practice to start a timer immediately as soon as you start a new task (or, if timers aren’t available, get into the habit of making your time entries as soon as you finish a task, before you move on to the next item on your to-do list).
4. Keep time entry descriptions short but specific
One advantage of careful time tracking is that it makes it easier to explain the charges on your clients’ invoices—but that’s only possible if you’ve kept track of those details!
While there’s no need to go into exhaustive detail every time you start a new entry, make sure that you at least include at least a brief description of the task at hand before you start tracking your time.
5. Don’t forget to take advantage of reporting
Another benefit of digitally tracking your hours? It makes it easy to run detailed reports and assess your timekeepers’ productivity. Ideally, you should be running regular reports at least once a month to take stock of how your firm’s hours are being spent.
Perhaps one of your attorneys is spending too much time on non-billable work or certain administrative tasks are taking up way too much of everyone’s day. If you spot this issue sooner rather than later, you can resolve workflow bottlenecks faster and reassign tasks where necessary.
Ready to take the tedium out of accurate timekeeping? Rocket Matter can help
Rocket Matter’s legal practice management platform comes complete with a whole suite of legal time tracking tools. Our cloud-based solution allows your attorneys to seamlessly track their time from anywhere in the software—and anywhere in the world. Time entries can be made from nearly any device, including mobile phones, so busy team members can accurately track their time on the go.
To see for yourself how Rocket Matter can help you streamline your law firm time tracking (and just about every other part of your practice’s workflows) sign up for a demo or start a free trial today.