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If you are still writing down your time on a time sheet form of some kind to give to your secretary for entry, keep the time sheet form or slip on your desk as a reminder to record your time. If your office computers are "networked" and you use an automated time and billing system, it is likely that you can probably enter your time from your own computer, avoiding "double-entry" of your time and freeing up your secretary to perform other important functions.
• Record all time for all services – telephone calls, file review, client meetings, research, drafting of correspondence, etc. You can decide later if you want to bill for that time.
• Record time contemporaneously as you complete a task. You will not remember all the work performed at the end of the month, week or day!
• Before starting a task, mark your starting time and the name of the client and matter on your time sheet. When you stop, mark the stopping time and the description of the work performed. An automated system will likely allow you to start and stop a time clock on several client screens and then remind you to make the appropriate time entries before closing out each client’s account screen. This is particularly helpful in practices where the attorney works with a number of client files during the day.
• Record non-billable time for firm administration, CLE, marketing, recruiting, pro-bono, bar service and other non-client, but practice-related activities. Recording this time provides you the information needed to better manage all of your time.
• Review time records at the end of the day and add up all billable and non-billable time to be sure you have not failed to record all of your time for the day.
• Enter all time records into the client billing system daily. Whether your "system" is a word-processing document or a time and billing software system, entering it daily and backing up those files will ensure that you will not lose that time.
• Keep all time records in case they are needed for evidence to support your fee or to assist with malpractice claims or disciplinary complaints.
• Automate your time-keeping and client billing function using legal-specific time and billing software. An automated time and billing system reduces the administrative time required to record, process and bill attorney time. It also provides management information to help in the management of work-in-process, accounts receivable, practice profitability and attorney and paralegal productivity.
The Ten-Minute Rule of Time Management
With all the papers and documents that are piled up in our offices, it becomes overwhelming and often times downright discouraging to even think about dealing with them. As a result, we let things get worse and worse until we start misplacing important documents and clients wonder about our organization skills. One approach is to take it in little pieces. Several times a week set a short term goal of ten minutes to go through a growing stack of papers that need to be filed or trashed. That way, you can accomplish something without feeling you need to get everything done. When the ten minutes is over, you may feel so good that you may actually want to continue and finish much more! Also try to take advantage of the extra time when a meeting suddenly cancels; try to use the extra time to go deeper into the stacks of paper. If you cull through and throw out the junk first, then go back to read and file things, the job is easier.
Accurate and contemporaneous time-keeping is one of the most important disciplines of a profitable practice and it is one of the least favorite lawyer activities. Despite the fact that good time-keeping procedures for an hourly rate-based practice are necessary to ensure the firm’s financial viability, the discipline of time-keeping is often a firm’s "weakest link." Most plaintiff firms don’t even attempt to keep time, using the excuse that if they don’t bill for their time, keeping time is a waste of time. But when any firm fails to keep accurate time records, it loses its ability to "operate on a sound basis of financial management." In his book entitled *Results-Oriented Financial Management - A Guide to Successful Law Firm Financial Performance, John G. Iezzi makes the case for time-keeping - particularly for the plaintiff firm.
Time keeping provides the plaintiff firm
1) the ability to measure the profitability of a case - the firm’s share of settlement proceeds does not equal profit in relation to time and resources devoted to the case;
2) the ability to measure a lawyer’s productivity, industriousness and work ethic - important performance standards in setting compensation;
3) assistance in the decision to settle a case - the value of the time already worked on a case in relation to the "value" of the case can assist the attorney in deciding how to manage the case. Further, a historical record of the time commitment certain types of cases require in relation to their typical "value" can assist a firm in deciding whether to accept a case before any time is expended on the case.
4) assistance in determining a departing lawyer’s interest in unsettled cases for purposes of buying out the lawyer;
5) a legal record of the time value charged on behalf of a client, sometimes necessary for the purpose of justifying fees; and
6) with the ability to prepare realistic budgets, monitor the firm’s financial performance and evaluate the performance of its lawyers - reducing the management issues that arise in firms that have both a general and plaintiff practice.
*ABA Section of Law Practice Management, Product Code 511-0319. Contact ABA Publication Orders for information on how to order this publication (800-285-2221).
Are you thinking about flying solo or setting up your own practice with another attorney? If so, then take the time to consider what is involved. There is a book, How To Start and Build a Law Practice, by Jay G. Foonberg which is a must read if you’re thinking about going out on your own. If you want to purchase the recently published 4th edition of this book, contact the ABA at (www.abanet.org/lpm/catalog/511-0415.html ) to place your order ($54.95; $47.95-LPM member) . TnBar Management Services also provides a Setting Up Practice - Basic Procedures guide which outlines the basic office systems you will need to put in place to work efficiently and to help protect you from malpractice and ethics problems. Contact TnBar Management Services at 1-800-899-6993 or 615-383-7421 to receive your free copy of the guide or for more information about how to set up your practice.
When you return from vacation, will you find files, documents and unopened mail in disarray on your desk? Will your voice mail box be full? Will your computer experience a melt-down when you try to retrieve the e-mails that have been sent to you while on vacation? If so, you may wish you’d never left at all.
This is where your legal assistant can help. Have your assistant open your mail while you are away and review it for critical information that should be passed along to you or your back-up attorney. Critical dates should be entered into your calendar system and the mail prioritized so that you can review the most critical mail immediately upon your return. Your assistant should check your voice mail box, recording the calls on phone message forms which should be arranged by date on your desk. Messages of critical importance should be brought to your attention immediately upon your return. Your assistant may be able to return calls to clients to inform them as to when you will return to the office or to refer them to another attorney in your office for assistance. Your assistant can also check your e-mails, forwarding them to others as appropriate or to your back-up attorney. In some cases the assistant may be able to respond to e-mails informing senders of your absence and date of return. Or , if you are an Outlook user, you might utilize the "Out-of-Office" feature on your e-mail system which can send a response to e-mails you receive informing the sender that you are not in the office, the date of your return and the phone number of your assistant should the sender need to speak with someone immediately. Finally, ask your assistant to develop a "to-do list", listing in priority order all the issues you will need to address or tasks you will need to complete upon your return. Using your assistant and a back-up attorney to manage your practice in your absence will make your return to the office a not-so-painful one.
If you are planning to take a vacation this summer, how will the needs of your clients be met in your absence? Check your calendar and tickler system several weeks in advance to ensure that deadlines will not be missed in your absence and that tasks that will need to be completed are completed prior to your departure. Assign pending client files to another attorney in your office and meet with the attorney to discuss the file in the event work has to be done on the file in your absence. Notify clients that you will be on vacation and give them the name of your assistant or another attorney in your office that can help them with their file. If you are a solo, ask your back-up attorney to assist you with client files while you are on vacation. Leave your number with your assistant and one other attorney in the event they must contact you. And … have a wonderful time.
The Two-Minute Rule of Time Management
If you pick up a file, document, letter, or phone message, and can get it done in two minutes or less, do it immediately! If it will take longer than two minutes, quickly assign it a high, medium or low priority, then add it to your "to do" list. Now get it off your desk and out of your mind until it comes up on your "to do" list again.
Try this for several days, and see if it helps you get your work done!
Summer is almost here; are you taking a vacation this year? Psychologists agree vacations are a way to take a brak from a busy, stressful schedule. But don't fall into two common traps: Don't overplan your vacation. Scheduling too many things can be counterproductive to a relaxing vacation. Avoid rushing to do anything, and leave time to be spontaneous. And just make time to do nothing. If you feel you must bring along work, laptop or cell phone, limit the amount of time you spend using them. Otherwise, you are cheating yourself and your family out of a meaningful, refreshing experience.
This Solo Practice Tip of the Week is a service of the Practice Management Advisors Committee of the ABA Law Practice Management Section. The PMA Committee is comprised of bar-sponsored practice management advisors from state bar associations and law societies in the U.S. and Canada. The tips are not meant as legal advice, nor binding on any bar association or law society.
If your practice slows down a bit this summer, take some time to review how you practice. Are you practicing in the areas of law you want to practice in? How much of your time is spent managing problem clients, cases or employees? Are you adequately staffed for your caseload? Are you spending too much time on administrative tasks? Are your office systems adequate to avoid malpractice? Is your practice as profitable as you want it to be?
The Practice Tip of the Week is a service of the TBA’s TnBar Management Services Program. It is not intended as legal advice, nor is it an authorized legal ethics opinion binding on any state bar or law society.