So, you’ve finished law school, secured your training contract or paralegal position and you’re ready for your first day in your new role but then you get hit with another obstacle – one that you never saw coming… I’m talking about time recording, of course!
For reasons unbeknown to me, this critical skill is omitted from the Legal Practice Course (LPC). When I first encountered time recording, having had no practical experience of it before, it hit me like a slammed door to the face. Although I received training on it, I still found it quite difficult to grasp and indeed underestimated the importance of recording correctly.
So, for those of you who don’t know, allow me to explain.
How do law firms make money?
Law firms make money by charging clients for their services. At the end of every month, when a matter closes or when a particular piece of work that a client asks for has been completed, the client (or if they are legally aided, the Legal Aid Agency) is billed.
How do they know how much to charge the client?
Fee earners (solicitors and sometimes paralegals) have an hourly rate determined by the firm and their personal level of experience. This means that they can charge a client X amount per hour that they work on the client’s file. For example, if at the end of the month the fee earner has completed 20 hours of work on the client’s file, they can then charge the client for 20 times their hourly rate and bill the client for the same.
Alternatively, a fixed fee can be agreed between the firm and its client. This is an agreement whereby the fee earner with conduct will carry out specific work for a client and in return, the client pays the firm the fixed amount. Once this work is completed, the fee earners cannot undertake any further work for the client unless it pays further funds on account.
There are other ways in which legal fees can be determined (eg, with monthly subscription plans). However, for the most part, the UK legal circuit hasn’t adopted this approach. This is something to look out for and will be explored further in another post.
The six hours a day principle
Traditionally, fee earners are required to complete six hours of chargeable work a day. These six hours are made up of 360 units or six minutes of work, 60 times. Now I know this seems daunting, especially when you’re first starting out but there are things you can do to ensure you hit your targets consistently. I’ve set out my tips below.
Advice for first-time 'time recorders'
1. Take notes
During your training, take notes and write down exactly how much time you are permitted to record for completing each task. Once you’ve done that, document your notes in a table, spreadsheet or list (whichever method works for you) something that is neat, tidy and easily accessible. This is beneficial for two reasons.
First, by referring to this document, you will know how long you should spend on each task. You will then be mindful not to go over this time, which will help your productivity.
Second, when it comes to physically recording your time, you have a quick guide reminding you of how many units to submit.
2. The one hour a day rule
Limit all non-chargeable work such as admin tasks, pro bono work and liaising with potential clients to one hour a day. It is important to be commercially aware that every hour you are not recording chargeable time is an hour in which the firm does not make money. My advice is to be strict with this one-hour rule. If it can’t be done in one hour, carry it over to the next day. Or, if it is absolutely essential, complete it early on the day so you can spend the rest of the day focusing on chargeable work.
3. Talk to your team
If you’re concerned about time recording, I promise you are not the only one. In fact, I can confidently say that everyone in your team has felt the same way at some point in their career.
It can be really helpful to ask for help on how to ensure you’re consistently hitting your targets. Don’t be scared to reach out for advice. If you are behind, you can always ask for more work. You can even speak to your supervisor and ask for further training if you think it would be helpful.
Time recording is a pain and can often take the fun out of being a lawyer especially if you are just starting out in your career. It’s easy to become target-focused and stress about meeting the firm’s expectations however, it does get easier and at some point it will become natural to you. In the meantime, I hope the above helps you to prepare for life as a fee earner.
Let me know if you wish to join my quest in making time recording a mandatory module on postgraduate training courses.