There are two things related to timekeeping that almost all law firms have in common:
The firm has some kind of timekeeping policy in place. It depends on the firm, but for most firms it is a loose kind of policy.
The firm struggles with getting attorneys to comply with the policies to enter their time.
We all know that this is important. In fact, we are preaching to the choir when we discuss the reasons that timekeeping is so important: billing accuracy, real-time compliance, faster billing cycles, forecasting, etc. The list goes on and on.
However, having a timekeeping policy in place is simply not enough to drive compliance. In fact, no matter how strict, rigid or detailed the time entry policy, firms still face the challenge of getting attorneys to enter their time on time.
In working with the world’s top law firms on this issue, we’ve identified the top reasons that law firm time entry policies fail.
Why Law Firm Time Entry Policies Fail
#1: Our behavior doesn’t change, but our expectations do.
Continue doing the same while expecting different results doesn’t make much sense. However, it happens in many organizations every day, including law firms. In this case, when a firm struggles with time entry compliance, there is a tendency to look toward the policies in place, and . often, firms institute more rules, adding to their current time entry policies. When you think about it, however, this approach is just “doing more of what’s not working.” If the current policy isn’t working, there is a reason for that. Firms should instead be focusing on identifying the reason for non-compliance and giving attorneys the resources and motivation to get time entered on time.
#2: There is a stick, without the carrot.
In the point above, we mentioned that “more policies” is not the answer. To be clear, we’re not suggesting that time entry policies do not have a place. However, time entry policies alone are not the answer. Instead, we suggest the “Carrot and Stick” approach, which combines an incentive or reward to motivate attorneys to comply, while there is still a consequence in place for non-compliance. Some firms withhold paychecks or change a fine. Attorneys have proven time and time again that the consequences of submitting time sheets on time are not enough to get the job done.
#3: We cannot tell attorneys what to do.
Attorneys hold rank in the law firm hierarchy. The reality is that while there are time entry policies in place, enforcing them can be a challenge because attorneys hold the power in the law firm structure. There are significant limitations to the enforcement of time entry policies.
#4: Attorneys refuse to enter their time.
Attorneys understand that billable hours translate to revenue and, therefore, need to be accounted for. However, despite this, there are still several different ways that attorneys reject time entry. Some attorneys will choose not to deal with time entry directly by delegating it to their administrative assistants, while others will avoid learning new systems or methods (like mobile time entry) of entering their time.
#5: Timekeeping is not the attorney's job.
In the busy life of an attorney, time entry is not a top priority. In the firm, attorneys exist to win cases and build the firm’s client base. Therefore, timekeeping is viewed as an annoyance, rather than a core responsibility.
How to Drive Time Entry Compliance
As you can see, there are many reasons why timekeeping policies fail for law firms. Fortunately, there are several actionable steps that can be taken in order to address this within the firm to get better results.
First, firms can capitalize on activation energy. The easier it is to get started with time entry, such as using an App for mobile time entry, the more likely they are to build the habits necessary to comply with time entry requirements on an ongoing basis.
Furthermore, it is critical that firms leverage the power of attorneys’ competitive nature. As we discussed above, policies alone will not drive compliance, there needs to be an incentive or reason for attorneys to want to enter their time. Krieg DeVault is an excellent example of how incentives can be used to increase engagement at the firm.
Finally, it is important to involve the entire firm in time entry in order to increase engagement rates. The more that time entry can become a part of the culture, the more success you will find in gathering time entry data on time, every time.
What are your experiences with time entry policies at your firm? Share the lessons learned in the comments section below.