Managing a lawyer’s time (recording) more effectively: Are you aware of the options?
Time management is one of the most challenging tasks for lawyers in a busy law firm. Lawyers who are well-organised and manage their time efficiently are more likely to locate information quicker, think with greater clarity and work more effectively.
Disorganisation and getting into to poor time management habits can have a number of negative implications on lawyers. Frustration can be caused by being unable to locate important documents and information quickly. Stress levels can be increased from working in an unnecessary ‘crisis mode’. Unproductiveness can cause feelings of dissatisfaction. Failing to follow and make a priority task through disorganisation could even lead a lawyer open to potential exposure to professional negligence claims. If a lawyer is working on an hourly rate, sloppy timekeeping can lead to individuals not being paid correctly for the work they dedicate to each client.
Better time management can, and usually should lead to less time spent on non-chargeable activities. The obvious consequence of avoiding spending time on non-chargeable activities is that lawyers have more time available for chargeable time. More effective time management also means there is an increased likelihood of chargeable time actually being recorded.
The NatWest Financial Benchmarking Report
According to the NatWest 2013 Financial Benchmarking Report, there is a 20% difference between the lower quartile firms and the upper quartile firms for annual chargeable hours recorded per fee earner. In terms of how this relates financially, this 200 hour difference, at the median recovered rate of £136 per hour, represents a potential difference of £27,000 of annual revenue per fee earner for the lower quartile firms.
The NatWest Financial Benchmarking Report talks of the UK’s historical tendency to confuse time-keeping with billing, stating:
“Given that most solicitors work hard all day for clients, it would appear that considerable amounts of time are going unrecorded. This is almost certainly because the culture in the UK has always been to confuse time-recording with billing – and fee earners are quick to discount their time at the point of recording.”
The report describes how the situation has worsened in recent years, as solicitors feel apprehensive about the prospect of time being written off. With a significant amount of work going un-recorded, the NatWest report advises firms should dedicate more time and look to other means of efficiently recording time.
“There is clearly a considerable amount of time being under-recorded. Firms should look to issue clear guidance on how time should be recorded and provide training to their staff on how narratives should be written so that they better reflect the value being provided to the client.”
As the report highlights, efficient time management is a vital element for measuring chargeable time fairly, both for the benefit of individual lawyers and their clients.
But what are the options?
In my opinion, Lawyers should be encouraged to account for all their time during the full working day. They should also be given assistance in identifying non-chargeable activities that can be minimised, or made more efficient. In addition, they should be encouraged to invest time in non-chargeable activities that add value to the firm (business development anyone?)
To do this Lawyers need to be given faster feedback on their time recording activities and set targets against which their performance is compared.
Managers should be given access to this information to enable them to identify issues. Having access to such information would enable them to encourage and guide lawyers to adopt appropriate practises and behaviour in terms of managing their time to the maximum benefit of the firm.
SmartEye management information software allows firm management and individual lawyers to monitor time recorded. It enables firms to view daily, weekly, monthly and annual recording against targets. It also means lawyers and firms can view trends and analyse variations between departments, locations, teams and individuals.
Stay poised for next week’s blog when we’ll explore the components that are hampering law firms’ productivity.
This blog post was written by Graham Moore, Managing Director of Exen.