Most of us didn’t get into law due to our love of administrative tasks. Whether a lawyer or paralegal, you’ve invested years (and plenty of money) to get where you are today. Yet, somehow, it seems like your daily life is chained to time tracking.
In the legal services industry, we can’t bill our clients without a method for time tracking. Pen and paper, spreadsheets, phone records—it all adds up to a bunch of guesswork. Working within the law requires precision, so we should set the same standards for our legal time tracking.
The good news is that it’s not too late to ditch old-fashioned hour recording for sleek legal tech trends. Modern practice management software can improve your time tracking and more.
The importance of time tracking for lawyers
Legal firms rely on time tracking in many key areas:
It’s quite difficult to bill and invoice clients without accurate time tracking. Many legal services are offered per hour, and different activities are billed at different rates. Individual team members will also need to keep track of time devoted to tasks, as the rates for senior partners may be much higher than for junior lawyers.
Time tracking provides a record of what work has been done. This is a useful way for your firm’s leadership to check how a case or project progresses. Equally as important, they can see who has been putting in the work and what else needs to be done.
With an accurate legal timekeeping solution, law firms can keep case work moving forward and deliver on time.
More accurate and dynamic pricing
Time tracking lets you monitor which types of tasks, clients, and cases take up most of your time. Being able to flag the most time-consuming components enables you to re-evaluate pricing estimations for cases and retainers.
And if any clients question price adjustment, you have records to prove the time spent on their case.
Similar to pricing, lawyer time tracking enables you to audit the time spent on case tasks. You can take a quick look at how much time is being spent on every activity. Are some team members spending an hour on an email that should take fifteen minutes? Or are some staff able to handle heavier workloads?
Time tracking software for law firms empowers leaders to optimize workflows and increase productivity.
Traditional methods of legal time tracking
There is plenty of modern technology for law firms to manage time tracking. However, many legal teams persist in using less robust, traditional tracking methods.
The most basic tool for time tracking is the time-tested calendar. Whether digital or analog, this system requires each individual to record time spent on each case or administrative daily manually.
A lot of legal work revolves around email. Many email hosting solutions provide time stamping features that help track when emails are initially created, written, and sent. This gives law firms an estimate of time spent on various activities.
Email tracking can be less reliable when covering tasks that require being out of the office. Not to mention, plenty of activities may not involve email at all.
Legal pad - day in review
It’s common practice at law firms for every team member to review the day’s activities before heading home. This type of review is typically written down on legal pads before being converted to digital documents or spreadsheets.
This method can be a good way for staff to examine what has been accomplished for the day. It can also help prepare teams for the tasks of the following day. However, this type of method relies heavily on memory to accurately record hours and minutes.
Business phone solutions
Many business phone services provide call management for legal teams, large and small. One of these features may include time tracking and call analytics. These help you track outbound and inbound calls with clients, subject matter experts, law enforcement, and other parties.
Call timestamps and hour totals can facilitate the billing process. However, phone call tracking is, at best, a part of a bigger whole. When combined with other methods, it provides a document of record for call-based billing hours.
With a bit of elbow grease and time, law firms can use Excel for time tracking. This can be more effective than a simple calendar or end-of-day review document.
With online spreadsheets, team members can access time tracking from anywhere. However, they will still be required to manually enter all tasks and hours. This method still relies on memory and allows room for human error associated with data entry.
Cons of using outdated time tracking methods
Traditional time tracking methods can be relatively quick and cheap to implement. But, like most things in business, you get what you pay for. Outdated time tracking methods have several drawbacks that cause modern legal teams to look elsewhere.
When using traditional methods, timekeeping is less accurate and precise. Besides the drawbacks of relying on memory and manual record keeping, many outdated practices involve rounding to the nearest 10 or 15 minutes when tracking hours.
This means that you either end up overbilling or underbilling a client in most cases. According to the American Bar Association, lawyers lose up to 10% of their billable time when relying on memory. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.
Even if you overbill clients, you can lose revenue in the long run. With a lack of accountability and/or transparency, overbilled clients will take their business elsewhere and possibly damage your reputation.
Loss of time spent on time tracking
Traditional time tracking methods use up much of your team’s time. Non-billable hours are spent logging tasks and time stamps for every activity a staff member works on.
Some outdated time tracking systems may cause more time to be lost correcting errors and inherent inefficiencies. For example, if a shared time tracking document like a spreadsheet accumulates a calculation error, it can lead to dire consequences and a heavy loss of time.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution
Each of the traditional time tracking methods has its weaknesses. This means legal firms need to use a combination of techniques, adding more complexity and room for human error. Using multiple time tracking solutions can also confuse team members and eat up their non-billable time.
No real-time data
With timekeeping spreadsheets or calendars, time is, at best, up-to-date at the end of the working day. Time monitoring may not be fully updated until the end of a working week or month in less efficient operations.
In other words, senior partners and decision-makers don’t have access to real-time information. Maintaining accurate financial records and managing team productivity makes it more challenging.
Using a calendar or email timestamps isn’t necessarily a collaborative effort. Each team member logs their activities and hours at the end of the day (or when convenient).
These traditional timekeeping methods don’t allow team members to see who is working on which case or task. With a lack of cohesive time tracking, some types of work may be duplicated or overlooked. Again, these types of errors can cost the firm time, money, and future clients.
Reasons to use legal time tracking software
Most legal time tracking apps are quick to set up and easy to use. However, there are plenty of other reasons to use modern time tracking solutions.
Improved billing accuracy
Legal timekeeping software removes the guesswork from billing. Instead of relying on manual entry and rounding to the nearest quarter hour, time tracking tools can account for each and every minute spent on a client or a case.
Phone calls, in-person meetings, emails, and other activities can all be automatically tracked, logged, and invoiced with minimal effort. Tasks such as case research, witness interviews, trial prep, and travel can all be recorded and billed at the applicable rates with a few clicks.
Besides billing clients, a legal time tracking solution also streamlines the process of non-billable timekeeping. Combined with both datasets, you can have a real-time view of which tasks are making (or losing) your firm money.
This helps leadership rearrange workflows and adjust pricing to reflect the time-cost of daily operations.
By moving to a cloud-based time tracking system, you and your team can work from anywhere at any time. This is because mobile and browser-based applications allow users to connect from any device with internet access.
Team members can log tasks and hours while on the go. Managing remote work in law firms has never been easier!
The best legal time monitoring software comes with analytics and reporting capabilities. Customized reports let you focus on time tracking areas that are most important to your legal team. Visualizations give managers a quick glance at prioritized details like billable hours, outstanding balances, client-specific hours, or other detailed data.
More efficient workflows
Time tracking software for lawyers helps management identify and eliminate time-wasting activities. Users can start and stop time tracking and tag activities with just a few clicks. This takes time tracking from minutes to hours to mere seconds.
It also automates time tracking tasks allowing your team to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on billable activities. Legal billing and time tracking solutions like Neos allow for ePayments that speed up the invoicing process and allow your clients to pay quickly.
Legal time tracking solutions provide a streamlined audit trail for all hour keeping. A historical and real-time record of all billable and non-billable time is available for potential audits to ensure compliance is kept to the highest standard. This includes having data readily available for client inquiries or demonstrating regulatory requirements have been met.
4 essential features of time tracking software
Legal time tracking software comes with a range of features. Here are a “core four” of essential legal practice management software features.
If the goal is to increase the accuracy of your billing and invoicing, then minute-by-minute tracking is a must. With a platform like Neos, you get automatic timekeeping to track the various rigors of working a case. This ensures hours are billed accurately even when that next meeting goes over time.
You can also leverage prompts for time tracking of billable hours. These let you stop and start timers—you’ll only need to document expenses for accurate billing.
Besides automated time tracking and timers, you want a solution that supports making hour adjustments when necessary. This will allow you to correct any potential mistakes before billing. It will also enable team members to split up billable and non-billable tasks to present a more granular look at how time on a case is spent.
In addition to time adjustment, rate adjustments are a similar and necessary feature. With Neos, you can set a master client rate for billing that will override any tasks or staff-specific rate for billable time. This corrects underbilling errors and ensures time-consuming cases are accurately priced.
Automatic timekeeping is probably the most obvious essential feature. But there is a lot more to consider. Workflow automation with legal software makes document and invoice generation a breeze.
A platform like Neos comes with integrations with tools like LawPay, CasePulse, DocuSign, and Quickbooks. These connections help you automate file-sharing, accounting, and paperless documentation.
You want a time tracking solution that lets you track the right key performance indicators (KPIs). Trackable metrics such as billable hours, revenue, and profitability are the expected minimum.
Other law firm KPIs such as cost per case, average case fees by case type, case duration by case type, and cost per lead can be tracked with practice management software like Neos. These types of solutions save you lost revenue with more accurate billing. They also give you greater insight into how to drive your law firm’s growth.
Precise time tracking for your law firm
It’s time to toss out your old time tracking methods and enter the digital age. Legal time tracking with Neos will make your team’s job easier. It will also save you time, increase revenue and promote growth!
Cohen Kolodny Abuse Analytics saw a 5x improvement in its ability to manage cases just by implementing Neos. But don’t just take their word for it. Request a demo today to learn how Neos can handle your law firm's billing and invoicing, case management, and document management.