A vital skill for all trainee solicitors to learn is how to record your time properly. Trainees going into their training contract straight from education might find that keeping a record of their day in 6 minute intervals is a bit of a shock to their system! Time recording (at least for me) was never really discussed during my degree or on the LPC; I knew that it needed to be done but I did not appreciate its importance.
At first glance, time recording might appear to be an administrative burden and an unwelcome chore, burning up valuable time in your day. It is however, one of the essential habits that you need to pick up early as a trainee.
Billing is the obvious area that time recording benefits. If you are charging on a time spent basis, it would seem common sense that if you don’t record and capture the time spent undertaking a job; you will find it hard to properly account to the client for the work that has been done.
There is common misconception that time recording and billing is the same thing (although an increase in time recording will normally result in an increase in bills). Just because you have recorded 2 hours of time producing a document does not mean the client will be charged that amount. The fee earner in charge of the matter is able to take a view on the value of the time recorded when it comes to bill the client, and can make allowances if the bill is unreasonable.
Accurate time recording impacts on things other than just the bill you send a particular client; it provides valuable management information for the firm and your supervisor.
At the end of the day the firm is a business like any other and needs to be profitable to remain open. Inaccurate time recording means the firm may miss out on potential fees for work undertaken, and its profitability could be affected. Working from inaccurate information may then result in the firm’s management making changes in other areas in an attempt to increase profitability (for example raising charging rates, which in a competitive market may reduce work received). It is not just the equity partners that benefit from a profitable firm. Higher profits mean more resources to invest back into the firm, improving things such as technology to make your job easier, and delivery of the service better, hiring more staff and possibly increasing salaries.
Accurate time recording will also assist with your training. If it took you 2 hours to produce the document but you only record 20 minutes, your supervisor will not be able to identify it as an area where you need more practice or guidance. Being honest with yourself and with your time recording will benefit your learning and will make you a better solicitor.
Tips on good time recording
1. Record everything
Record time for everything you do that is related to a matter. It might result in a higher WIP write off at the end of the matter but this is offset by the valuable insights that can be taken from the information.
2. Do it as soon as possible
If you are able to, record your time as soon as you have done the work. It will be fresh in your mind and you will be able to recall the length of time and work undertaken more accurately. If you leave recording your time to the next day or later in the week you risk missing out time or recording it inaccurately.
3. Write detailed, positive descriptions
Putting a detailed description of the work you have done, and how your work has forwarded the matter or benefitted the client will assist the fee earner in determining the value of the time recorded at the end of the matter. It will also help you and your supervisor identify areas where extra guidance or training is required.
4. Get into the habit early
The sooner you make time recording a habit the better. Once you get into the swing of recording time properly it will become part of your routine and will seem less like an additional burden.