Everyone in the legal industry complains relentlessly about having to enter time. It is a fact; time entry is time consuming! Since I started in the legal industry almost thirty years ago, I’ve heard all the complaints. The arguments, the four letter words, and more, can be heard throughout any firm on any given day. So, what is a person to do when they actually LOVE the entire time entry process? Truthfully, I have been forced to hide my delight for too many years. No, I am not crazy and I make some good points that might shift your perspective on time entry– read on.
Essentially, I have always felt that the time entry process was my moment to shine! It gives me the opportunity to showcase my legal talent and what I can accomplish. It is, for the most part, a journal of my work life.
From the moment I see a blank time entry field, my pulse starts to race. The act of entering the amount of time that I worked, makes the event seem all that more real. But, ultimately, the real excitement starts when I begin the narrative composition process.
Think about it! Any profession that requires a person to document the work they perform in time increments, provides the person with a unique opportunity to connect with the client. You are providing your client with a snapshot of what it takes and all that is involved in accomplishing their goals. I have a rule regarding billing narratives – the narrative should always support the time. I am not saying write the next War and Peace or a new Harry Potter novel, but be generous in your description especially if you have allotted several hours to performing the task.
When you say that you had a telephone call with Mrs. Smith be clear in your time entry by stating what the call was about, the outcome and any outstanding issues. Time billed for research should always outline the topics you covered, a brief narrative on the results and a note if more research is needed. Drafting entries should include a description of what was drafted such as an agreement, letter, pleading, etc. Additionally, you should include a note as to why you created the document, when the document was sent and when you expect a response. In essence, a good time entry narrative eliminates the need for multiple status call. The client should be able (to some degree) see how their matter is progressing through your narrative.
Now let us talk billing frequency! A monthly statement should always be standard and never, never (please never) wait until the end to bill your client. Even when you have received a retainer, waiting until the end to send a statement never goes well. In my experience, you are setting yourself up for the “fee reduction talks.” If I were a betting person, I would say that your starting point for negotiations will be exactly half of the total billed. Monthly statements ward off the “price shock” for your services. It also allows you to have the conversation about fees and costs throughout the process so the whole “awkwardness” of discussing payment is minimized.
Finally, if calls to the client about payment need to be made, I never mind making the call. I strongly believe that when a client engages an attorney, the client completely understands that payment is required. Strong detailed statements, provided on a monthly basis, play a significant role in minimizing the dreaded fee reduction request. Determining when and how the client is going to pay is a call they are certainly expecting and having strong supporting statements makes the process much easier all the way around.