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How to Create a Time Entry Policy that Works for Your Firm

Posted by Gaby Isturiz on February 27, 2017 at 7:00 AM

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If you work at a law firm in any capacity, you know all too well the struggle that exists around time entry. Busy attorneys dread setting aside their limited time to devote what usually amounts to hours of reconstructive time entry: going through call logs, emails, notes scribbled on post-its and bubble gum wrappers to make the best guess of how much time was spent on each matter. 

Time entry isn’t any more enjoyable for firm administrators tasked with tracking down attorneys and serving multiple “friendly reminders” to get their time in. The worst part is that despite the painful process, when time is finally entered, it is likely to be less accurate due to the reconstructive nature of the timekeeping process. This results in greater instances of rejections, reduced client trust, poor forecasting ability and longer billing cycles. In other words, no one wins!

This may sound like a dismal situation, but in every rain cloud, there is a silver lining and this scenario is no exception! The answer can be found by aligning your time entry policy with technology in order to get better results for your firm.

How many times have you tried to implement or rollout a time entry policy at your firm successfully? There is a reason that your time entry policy keeps failing.

According to this time entry study, 98% of firms have some sort of time entry policy in place. However, only 56% of firms actually enforce their time entry policy - 41% do not. So, why do time entry policies matter so much?

It turns out, we need them as a motivation for desired behavior. As bestselling author Tim Ferriss once said, “No matter how good a plan is, or how sincere our intentions, humans are horrible at self-discipline. Instructions and info are not enough - you need incentives and consequences.”

So what can your firm do to improve your timekeeping policy in order to generate better results? Here are a few tips:

#1: Codify your time entry policy.

In working with firms of all sizes, we’ve learned that if we ask firms to produce their firm's policy for us, they can't produce a simple one-page document with their time entry policy. Instead, the time entry policy is typically buried in a 100+ page handbook or in an email from a partner that was sent several years earlier. This makes enforcing the policy impossible, creating a “word of mouth” understanding of the policy where the expectations are neither clear nor reinforced. If this sounds like the time entry policy at your firm, consider codifying your time entry policy by creating a one-page document that clearly outlines the actual policy and the firm’s expectations. Then, someone from the executive leadership of the firm should distribute the policy to all timekeepers. It should also be included in onboarding packets and be prominently displayed in the firm’s common areas. This is the start of creating a culture of time entry discipline.

#2: Connect effective policy management with results.

Initially, policies are difficult to enforce due to a lack of tools to do so. Even when attorneys want to comply, they don't know where they stand in real-time on their day-to-day time entry success.

For firms that are successful at managing their time, it is very resource intensive (we’ve seen as many as 40 staff members devoted to managing time entry). For many firms, this is unrealistic. It is easier to do nothing than it is to invest the time and resources to manage consistently an attorney’s compliance with the policy. Seek out a solution that will make policy management doable for your firm.

#3: Tie to incentives and consequences for time entry.

When it comes to time entry consequences and penalties, we have heard it all. From a small $25 penalty all the way to stopping direct deposit for months. Conversely, rewards are not that common. Ultimately, some managing partners believe that it is part of an attorney’s responsibility to keep their time records in a timely and accurate manner. Although there is a genuine desire to do this, firms are limited in their ability to perform this consistently, reliably and effectively due to the lack of tools at their disposal.

Given the importance of time entry for today’s firms, time entry policies need to receive the respect that they deserve. Until we get serious about putting policies and the ability to enforce the same on the forefront, change isn't going to happen.

How do you go about managing your firm’s time entry policy in order to get better results? Share your comments below.

Law Firm CFO

Topics: Time Entry Policies

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