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Time recording: the ultimate guide

updated on 29 June 2021

Time is money; especially when talking to a lawyer

As a former paralegal at Payne Hicks Beach, one of the tasks I found most confusing was time recording. It wasn’t something I’d been taught how to do before, so the concept was new but also had many benefits. For example, it wasn’t until I started time recording that I realised how efficient (or inefficient) my day was.

If you’re just starting out, you will mostly be recording time for non-chargeable work (eg, training, admin duties, attending seminars and meetings), but this is good practice for when you begin to record chargeable work. The purpose of this article is to guide you through time recording so you have an idea of what it entails when you start your paralegal or trainee solicitor role.

What is time recording?

Law firms bill their clients at an hourly rate for the number of hours each fee earner has worked on each client matter (with the cost of billing varying based on seniority). So, it follows that a law firm should be able to justify the time worked on each matter, and describe in detail and account for every billable hour. Lawyers and paralegals (which I will refer to as fee earners) need to record their time as the day progresses; this is called ‘time recording’. Time recording makes it easier for clients to see the full extent of the work being undertaken on their behalf and to see where their money is going. Therefore, your recorded time must be fair to the firm and the client. 

Every firm has a time recording policy. When I was a paralegal, the firm I was working for required fee earners to record a minimum of seven hours daily (including holiday and non-working days). In a law firm, time is recorded in units (ie, six minutes per unit). When time logging, an activity code must be selected for each time entry. Each different type of work on a matter (eg, telephone calls, meetings and letters) should be recorded separately. There is a note box in each time recording that must contain full details of the work that has been carried out. Non-chargeable time should be recorded with a relevant activity code. An example of a chargeable work type and code is ‘ATT’ which means ‘attendance at court’ or ‘E-MO’ which means ‘email out’. Examples of non-chargeable work include meetings about charities, business development and legal research. All-time recording feeds into the fee earner’s timesheet.

The importance of time recording

Time recording can improve your chances of being retained. Law firms operate as a business, so it follows that lawyers have billing targets and key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs allow law firms to monitor employee’s performance and increase revenue. Most firms set fee earners’ billing or time targets of how many hours of chargeable work they are expected to record daily or monthly. Trainees and newly qualified (NQ) solicitors also tend to have targets (eg, they may be expected to charge clients five to seven hours a day). 

Three ways to time record

Lawyers work on multiple matters for various clients each day. It can be time-consuming to remember what matters you worked on, the specific activity and the duration, at the end of a long day. Law firms have recognised and solved this problem by offering you three different ways to time record.

  1. Post time – this is the traditional way of time logging and involves having a paper trail. This means you keep a notebook or diary of your daily tasks, and then log your time into the system at the end of the day. 
  2. Timeloggers – this is a timer that floats on your screen and helps you to record your work. Most fee earners prefer this method because you can pause the clock or start a different clock if something else comes up.
    • Timeloggers enable you to record in ‘real time’. You can use a series of timers to record different types of work. For example, if you start a timelogger as you begin drafting but the phone rings regarding a different client or a non-client related matter, you should stop the clock and click a new task timer to start the clock running. At the end of the telephone call, stop the clock, add/edit the matter number, enter an activity and note down the details of this activity. Post the time, then return to the original task at hand by restarting the clock.
    • Often partners and associates don’t have to time record as they have legal secretaries to do that for them. Legal secretaries are not advised to use the timelogger feature, and will input the time manually instead.
  3. Prompt – when you create a letter or draft an email, you are prompted to time record. You will receive an automated message on your screen asking you whether you want to record the time for this work.

Time recording tips

It can be stressful having to time record because you will have busy days where you haven’t had a chance to get around to it, or you’ve left it till the next day and you’re now racking your brain to recall yesterday’s activities. Don’t panic, here are three tips to help you remember and assemble the pieces.


This will be your saving grace. Input all meetings, conference calls, phone calls and court dates you have into your calendar – your future self will thank you. Synchronise your calendar to your work laptop, computer and phone for ease of access when you are on the go.

Mobile phone logs

Most mobile devices track the time, date and duration of calls, so if you’ve been on the phone to Kingston court for an hour and forgot to time record straight after, you can simply check your phone log times.


For most lawyers, the calendars and emails go together, as both can be useful in helping you to recall what you did on a workday and when. If you’re looking for a time and date stamp, then the filter button is your best friend and will help you to piece your day together. 

Here are four things to remember:

  • If you have made a mistake and wish to edit your time, you can do so if it is before billing. If it is after billing, you must contact your firm’s accounts department.
  • When filling in details of an activity avoid using abbreviations and check your spelling as your notes will be included in the bill summary documents for the finance department to see.
  • If your time has been entered in a matter in error and needs to be moved to another matter, you should have a time transfer function. Time can be transferred only if the matter is open for billing.
  • If you have fallen short of your required seven hours, you will get an automated email to remind you. 


Nobody likes time recording. You will find yourself leaving your time recording until the end of the working day, or worse still, the end of the week. The way I see it, you have two choices: view time recording as the bane of your life or as a method of reducing the burden of keeping track of time. I hope this guide has equipped you to tackle time recording and I wish you luck in your legal role.

You can read more about time recording in past blog posts ‘What they don’t teach you in law school – time recording’ and ‘Time recording – time well spent’.

Christianah Babajide is the content & engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.