During a time when demand for legal services is flat, average revenue per lawyer is down, and managing partners’ overall confidence in the market is slipping, the proper keeping of time for all of those billable hours generated by toiling associates has never been more important. For better or worse, law firms are desperately trying to incentivize associates to submit their hours on time.
As we mentioned way back in 2010, “Time keeping is more accurate when you do it every day (as opposed to trying to recreate your days at the end of the week or month). Firms are struggling to collect from their clients. And, for what it’s worth, billing hours is part of the job for attorneys.”
Another part of an attorney’s job is the ability to follow rules. One Biglaw firm just rolled out a new time entry policy, and if its associates don’t follow these rules, they can expect some pretty negative consequences when bonus season comes around…
Fulbright & Jaworski, a member firm of the Norton Rose Fulbright verein, is on a quest to “minimize unnecessary loss of billable time due to delayed time entry.” The policy contained in the memo from the Management Committee seems simple enough. Here are the first three points from the Fulbright missive:
1. Attorneys should record their time on a daily basis.
2. Time Diaries for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays must be entered and released no later than 9 p.m. (Central Time) the following Thursday; and Time Diaries for Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays must be entered and released no later than 9 p.m. (Central Time) the following Monday.
3. A Practice Leader may grant an exemption for any release period to a timekeeper who is not able to submit time in conformity with the policy of the Firm. Exemptions will be granted in exceptional circumstances. If two exemptions have already been granted during the calendar year, requests for additional exemptions must be submitted to the Group Head.
The trouble lies in the fourth point, which one of our tipsters claims is “Fulbright’s newest way of screwing associates out of their hard earned bonuses.” Uh-oh, that doesn’t sound good. Let’s take a look:
4. Only time that is timely entered in accord with the policies of this Firm will be counted for any bonus to be awarded to associates or senior associates based on hours charged during the year.
Yes, that part does suck for associates — but only for the associates who are incapable of getting their sh*t together. At some point, a firm needs to take a hard line when it comes to timekeeping. Attorneys are supposed to enter their time, on time. Associates can whine, and moan, and complain about having to do it until they’re blue in the face. They ought to keep in mind, though, that time spent performing pointless bitching could be used to record their hours on time so they will be able to get their full yearly bonus.
Record your time, on time, so the clients who fund your bonuses can be billed. It’s not that difficult.
(The full memo is available on the next page if you’d like to take a look.)