For most lawyers, capturing all of your billable time is a top priority. After all, many lawyers still charge by the billable hour, and if you won’t get paid for billable time if you fail to track it. This is even more important now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, since cash flow is less predictable due to the impact of COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, the old school method of tracking time using a pen and paper timesheets would sometimes suffice, but no longer. Because many firms have either a fully or partially remote workforce, an antiquated time-tracking system simply doesn’t work when team members are located in different locations.
Trying to jury rig a paper-based system to capture billable time is not only ineffective practice, it actually ends up wasting valuable time that could be better spent on billable activities. Like it or not, if your firm wants to ensure that all time is captured and billed—even when employees are working remotely—your best option is to upgrade to a more streamlined and centralized cloud-based time-tracking system.
The good news is that many cloud-based time-tracking software tools have been around for nearly a decade and are well-tested. Depending on your firm’s needs, there are a host of options available ranging from robust law practice management or legal billing software with built-in time-tracking features to stand-alone time-tracking software.
No matter which option you choose, lawyers in your firm will be able to enter time no matter where they are using a computer or mobile device. This will make it possible for time to be tracked and entered contemporaneously, thus ensuring that your firm captures—and charges for—all of its billable time.
In this article, only cloud-based time-tracking tools will be covered; cloud-based legal billing and payment processing tools were covered in earlier columns this year. Also of note is that whenever you entrust your law firm’s data to a third party—as you do when you use cloud-based time-tracking software—you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data.
This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things. With that in mind, here are a few of the more notable time-tracking software tools to consider.
The first option is to take advantage of the time-tracking features built into law practice management software like Smokeball, MyCase or Clio, or full-fledged legal billing software programs such as Timesolv Legal, Time59 or Bill4Time. Using this software, time can typically be tracked and entered from any location using a laptop or desktop computer. Most of these products also offer a mobile app that includes a timer and the ability to track and enter time from any internet-enabled device.
One benefit to this approach is that the billable time that you enter is automatically associated with the correct matter, making it a simple task to create and edit an invoice and then send it off to your client with the click of a button. Additionally, the time-tracking function is often built into the price you already pay to use the software suite.
Of course, the features will vary from one program to the next, so make sure to test drive each law practice management program’s time-tracking features before committing to it. Some are will include features that others will not, but depending on your firm’s needs, the additional features may not be a must-have. So it’s important to ensure that you fully understand the features available.
For example, some law practice management software programs, such as MyCase and Smokeball, include built-in passive time-tracking capabilities. This means that the software tracks your online activities throughout the day and then allows you to capture any billable activities that were tracked by the program, but weren’t yet entered into it. So if you drafted and sent an email, but neglected to enter the time spent doing so into the software, it will prompt you to enter that time and link it with the associated matter.
There are also standalone tools available that passively track time. The first is Chrometa. Although Chrometa is not specifically designed for lawyers, it integrates with a number of different law practice management systems.
Another option is Ping, which is a time-tracking artificial intelligence tool specifically designed for lawyers that works with a law firm’s billing software to automatically associate a time-keeping event captured by Ping with the likely client for which it was performed. That’s where the AI comes in: Ping analyzes the work being done and the files or people involved and predicts which clients the billable time should be associated with.
Finally, there are a many basic standalone time-tracking tools available that don’t include passive time-tracking and were not designed specifically for lawyers. Even so, for some firms they may nevertheless be a good fit. Two popular options are Timetracker and Timewerks. Using these tools, you’re able to track and enter time from any computer or mobile device, ensuring that you capture all of your billable time. But in most cases the time entered isn’t automatically associated with your law firm’s billing system. Nevertheless, it is still more efficient than tracking your time on a paper time sheet.
Time tracking doesn’t have to be a painful process. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to accurately and efficiently track and capture billable hours without needlessly interrupting your workflow. So whether your firm is in the market for simple standalone software or a more robust and seamless option, there’s a time-tracking tool out there that’s a perfect fit for your firm’s needs.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].