How Time Entry Affects Morale At the Firm: The Staff Perspective

Posted by Gaby Isturiz on Jul 29, 2014 8:28:00 PM


 

13008230_sHow’s the weather at your firm? Do you experience any changes in temperature around your time entry deadline? If you do, you’re not alone.

In a recent blog post, we presented several reasons why time entry should be a top priority at all firms. One of those reasons: morale.

Morale is often regarded as a “fluffy” aspect of organizational culture, reserved for the folks in HR. However, it shouldn’t be. Morale has the capacity to positively or negatively impact several areas of the firm, including: productivity, revenue, talent attraction and employee retention.

Although we typically spend much of our time on this blog talking about issues that pertain to attorneys and productivity, we’d like to shift the focus in this post to the staff perspective. Much of the glamour of law firm life is reserved for attorneys who are winning cases and scoring big deals. The behind-the-scenes activities that support those efforts often take a back seat, but staff members truly are unsung heroes of the firm.

Time entry is primarily the responsibility of the attorney. As such, the repercussions of delaying or putting off the responsibility to enter time are often underestimated. However, the trickle-down effect is real to the members of staff that are either involved in the completion of the task (such as legal assistants) or are affected by the time of completion or final product (billing).

The typical legal assistant, for example, is responsible for supporting 3-4 attorneys, on average. This means that on any given day, the legal assistant already has a “full plate” of tasks and responsibilities to get through before the end of the day. In order to effectively support each attorney, needs must be anticipated.

When just one attorney delays his or her time entry until the end of the time period, it creates a considerable burden for the legal assistant who is tasked with entering as much as a month’s worth of time against a lingering deadline. This stressful situation is amplified when more than one of the attorneys that an assistant is assigned to delays time entry responsibilities until the end of the time period.

“So what?” you might ask, after all, isn’t that the role of the assistant? Maybe it is. However, the result of procrastinating time entry creates an unnecessarily stressful work environment, which benefits no one. In fact, occupational stress is now considered a global epidemic. According to Fairleigh Dickinson University, “Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers' compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses.” Each of these factors into the annual profitability of the firm.

The trickle-down effect doesn’t stop with the legal assistant. When the legal assistant is unable to meet deadlines, word processing and/or billing are forced to get  involved. These departments typically consist of a small staff (4-5 staff per 100 attorneys) and operate with a consistently-full workload. It’s one thing for the team to come together when an emergency arises, but last-minute time entry responsibilities can be planned for and are therefore avoidable. When the billing department is required to tend to timesheet collection, it will cause delays and sometimes it can require employees to work overtime. This creates tension across the entire organization, which then translates to decrease in morale due to chronic and unnecessary stress. Furthermore, delays in cash flow create a suboptimal financial picture for the firm.

Here’s the good news: attorneys and other leadership at the firm can take initiative to avoid unnecessary stress in the working environment, which means an active step in favor of preserving morale.

Embracing contemporaneous time entry will alleviate the painful scenario discussed above. Prioritizing time entry allows the legal assistant to follow through with completion and submissions, greatly reducing the likelihood of the “boat being rocked” for any department in the firm.

Has time entry created tension at your firm? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Topics: Contemporaneous Time Entry