5 Ways Timekeeping is Hurting Your Firm

5 Ways Timekeeping is Hurting Your Firm

5 Ways Timekeeping is Hurting Your Firm

For law firms that bill by the hour, timekeeping is the lifeblood of the firm. It’s the first thing new law grads are taught when they join, and it’s the primary input function for the firm’s revenue. 

But that doesn’t mean doing it manually is the best idea. Since the invention of the billable hour, lawyers have been manually tracking every 6 minutes of work. Firm leaders who grow up in this environment become so accustomed to this system that they rarely stop to consider the downstream consequences for their firm.

There are five main ways that manual time tracking hurts firms.

1. Lost Revenue

That email you sent from your phone in the Uber. 

That random call you got from your client. 

That time you forgot to start your timer. 

That day you worked 12 hours but somehow only billed for 7.

Most lawyers instinctively know that they’re losing time through the cracks. Some practices experience this more than others. Anyone who bounces frequently between clients – startup lawyers and certain kinds of litigators, for example – has experienced losing 10-30% of their billable time this way.

Some lawyers argue that those random bits of time wouldn’t get billed to their clients anyways. No one likes being billed 0.1 for sending a two-minute email, right? On the other hand, wouldn’t you rather capture that time and then choose whether to write it off? If nothing else, you’ll gain extra credit with your client for all the free work you’re doing for them.

2. Hours Wasted

Time tracking is a time-consuming endeavor. Every lawyer and paralegal at a firm is wasting at minimum 15-45 minutes per day tracking their time and writing accurate narratives that convey the value of the work performed.

There are many different systems for this. Some lawyers start and stop timers, then pause in between every task to write a narrative for the task they just finished. Others use Word documents, Excel sheets, or a good old fashioned notepad, then manually transfer that data into the system. A surprising number of lawyers procrastinate their time entries for weeks, then scour their calendar and sent emails trying to reconstruct their time (hint: I was one of those).

Whether it’s a minute or two between every task or half a Saturday at month end, timekeeping is consuming valuable time that could be spent on billable work or with friends and family.

3. Poor Quality Narratives

We hear over and over from firm leaders that they view bills as a marketing document to the client. The time entries convey the value of the legal work and justify the (often very expensive) bills.

Yet when timekeeping is left up to each individual’s process, you invariably end up with a wide range of narrative quality. It might be grammatical errors, vagueness, inconsistencies between timekeepers, billing to the wrong matter, or a dozen other issues.

This results in one of two outcomes: either the partners and admin staff spend many valuable hours at month-end editing time entries, or they accept that poor quality entries will be submitted to the client.

4. Attorney Burnout

Every firm has requirements on how often attorneys are required to submit their time, ranging from daily to monthly.

No matter the size of the firm, associates will procrastinate time entry as long as they’re allowed, and often longer. Big firms have such a problem with time delinquency that they employ teams of billing staff who are responsible for ensuring time entries are submitted. Many firms will start to dock an associate’s bonus if they’re overly delinquent.

Meanwhile, associates are already exhausted from the demands of billable work. When I worked in Biglaw, the last thing I wanted to do after working a 14 hour day was sit down and draft timesheets. Instead, I spent my Friday night or Saturday morning catching up, at the expense of sleep or spending time with my partner.

In a recent poll we ran recently with over 700 responses, 87% of lawyers said they find time tracking painful and 21% said timekeeping is “literally the worst part of my job”.

5. Lack of Insight

There is a lot of useful data to be gleaned from time entries. In theory, they should contain a record of all work performed by all timekeepers at a firm. This could be used, for example, to effectively predict how much future work will cost, or to identify areas where the firm is inefficient and should invest in better technology. 

In reality, the data is rarely used in this way. Tasks are usually lumped together in larger block billing entries, making them hard to disaggregate. Even if separated, the fact that narratives are written in unstructured natural language makes it hard to draw useful insights.

As a result, firms have very limited visibility into what kinds of work are being performed, by whom, and for how long.

The Solution

Manual time tracking is the industry default practice. Generations of lawyers have gone through their entire careers doing this task on a daily basis. So it’s no surprise that most never stop to consider whether there’s a better way. 

But it’s 2024 and AI is slowly pervading every aspect of the world. This is the first time in history where computers can reliably track our time for us and generate complete, accurate timesheets. This lets firms capture 100% of the work performed, cut out hours of manual billing admin, get consistent, high quality narratives, and leverage timekeeping data to gain broader insights on their firm.

If you’re interested to see how we’re flipping the script on this legacy process (and many more to come), book a demo today.

Get in touch

Interested in doing less manual admin work? Let's chat.