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Most law practices have a significant gap between hours worked and hours billed. In fact, a study from LexisNexis found that all firms, especially solo and two-attorney firms, are not billing as much as 39 percent of time worked. Why? The culprit is poor time tracking which is often the result of a business or ethical dilemma.

The Business Dilemma

Science shows that memory fades with time. The famous Ebbinghaus experiment conducted by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus taught us that after 31 days without relearning or memory reinforcement, we forget 78 percent of what we learned. From a business perspective, the longer you wait to track your time, the more it turns into guesswork rather than an accurate, detailed account of billable activity. So, if you wait until the end of the month, or even week, it’s nearly impossible to remember all of the work completed. Instead of monitoring your time, you’re forced to recreate it.

The natural instinct is to be conservative. You don’t want to overbill your clients, and you certainly don’t want your clients to dispute your bill, so many firms will underbill to “play it safe.” This can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

Hypothetically speaking, suppose sloppy time tracking causes you to underbill by 15 minutes per day – an extremely conservative figure based on the LexisNexis data mentioned previously. Fifteen minutes per day probably doesn’t seem significant, but if you charge $250 per hour and work 48 weeks per year, those 15 lost minutes each day will cost you $15,000 over the course of a year – per attorney. If you bill at a higher rate, do the math. The cost is staggering.

Poor time-tracking practices result in generic, somewhat vague, and often inconsistent descriptions of your time. This leaves the door open to client disputes and the lack of detail makes you less prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. It only takes one incident to permanently damage a client relationship and your reputation.

Poor invoicing can often be traced back to poor time-tracking. Time-tracking cannot start when you prepare your invoice. Law firms should record their activity almost in real-time to ensure that all activity will be accurately represented on the client invoice. Without consistent time-tracking, there is an increased risk of inaccuracy and confusion.

What is it about entering time that is so hard?

They answer stems from the fact lawyers work on multiple matters often for multiple clients on any given day. It’s time-consuming and challenging to reconstruct what they worked on at the end of a long day. Therefore, they delay the task until they have time to focus and think it over carefully.

Generally lawyers are pretty good at remembering what they did over larger blocks of time – meetings, conference calls, or substantive work on documents – but what they forget is all the little things.

These little things are the impromptu client emails or the 15-minute phone calls that are sprinkled throughout the day. If a lawyer is providing good advice, even in brief interactions, it’s worth documenting and charging fair value.

4 Common Ways Lawyers Try To Reconstruct Billable Time

  • Calendars. Lawyers live and die by the calendar, so reviewing it for meetings, conference calls, and court dates are a way to recall what was previously accomplished.

  • Email. For many lawyers the calendar and email go together, so reviewing deleted and sent items offers clues as to which matters were worked and when. The fact that emails are archived with a time and date stamp is useful for piecing a day together.

  • Document management. Whether it’s a simple folder system on a desktop or a sophisticated firm-wide software, lawyers can sort and filter work documents by creation or modification date as well as matter association. This can provide enough of a glimpse to remind a lawyer of their workflow on previous date.

  • Phone logs. When looking for an outline of past activities, many modern phone systems have logging features. For example, enterprise landline systems often provide a means for users to scroll through a log of calls made by date. Most mobile devices also track the duration of calls.

While all these things can help, it’s still a bit like putting together a puzzle – with many missing pieces and time lost.

Time-entry is essential to the financial health of a firm, but it’s also liable to remain one of the most unenjoyable administrative, legal tasks. Savvy attorneys and firms use the three levers of people, policy, and technology, to emphasize the importance of timely entry while also making the process as easy as possible.

Veritas Lex, LLC (

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