Someone once said: “Life is a series of interruptions interrupted by interruptions.” No one recorded who said it… the person doing the recording was probably interrupted when they were about to write that down…
But as practising lawyers, we are interrupted all the time. When it comes to recording your billable time, being interrupted before you capture that time can be costly.
You get to the end of a crazy day. You’re wiped. You’ve been running around like a maniac all day, responding to and sending e-mails, talking with clients on the phone, putting out fires and drafting umpteen letters and documents. Time to pat yourself on the back and check your total time for the day. You add it up – only 4.3 hours. Huh??? You ask yourself: “Where did all my time go? I worked like a dog today. I got here early, I worked through lunch, I stayed late – and I have only 4.3 hours docketed.”
You move to disaster recovery mode. Time to try and rebuild the day. What did I work on? What telephone calls did I make? How long were they? How much time did I spend drafting the agreement on the Smith file? How many times was I interrupted while working on that agreement? You review your sent folder to try and figure out what e-mails you read and/or sent that day.
Stop! Trying to create time entries for work done earlier in the day (much less in the more distant past) is very time-consuming and not likely to be very accurate or complete. It is universally recognized that lawyers who create a dockets entry contemporaneously with completing the task end up capturing a significantly greater portion of the work they have done – some studies suggest a gain of 20 per cent or more. So resolve to docket your work as you go.
Most time and billing programs have a timer feature to help track how much time you have spent on any given task. It works just like a stopwatch. Most lawyers grossly underestimate the time they spend on individual tasks. Try timing your own tasks; you will be shocked by how much time you are missing.
If you get interrupted while working on one task, pause or close the docket for it, and create a new docket for the new task. Reopen the original docket when you return to the task.
At the end of the day, you should still review your dockets. Look for missed time, and make any necessary corrections or additions while things are still fresh in your mind.
Even if you don’t bill by time, counting the minutes and hours that you actually spend working on client matters (and on important non-billable tasks such as office administration) is a good step towards holding yourself accountable for how you spend your day.