Dine Law, P.L. is a small law firm providing Elder Law services in Manatee & Sarasota Counties, and in October 2012, the members of the firm embarked on quite a journey together as we moved our entire practice (server, telephones, time-keeping and document management systems) into the cloud. Bios for each member of the firm can be found here, but if you’re short on time, here’s what you need to know:
- Dine Law is writing this blog as a group because it believes all members’ opinions are valuable. Each blog post will cover a different topic involving technology and this post’s topic is TIMEKEEPING.
- Erika Dine is the founding attorney and has been a practicing lawyer for 10 years. Logan Elliott and Sierra Pino are associates and have been practicing for 3 and 6 years, respectively. Heather Muncy is a paralegal and office manager with 10 years experience in the legal field. Diane Roy is a full time paralegal and Jet Stewart is a part-time paralegal. Together they have 60 years of combined experience!
- DISCLAIMER: We often refer to the specific programs and products we are using because we took the time to research them and they are a good fit for Dine Law. There are many technology choices and options available to you, and we just want you to use something to help make your life a little easier!
Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that “time is a lawyer’s stock in trade.” Of course, many attorneys may disagree and instead believe that a lawyer’s stock in trade is value-based or results driven while still others may believe that clients are not paying for our time or for results, rather they are paying for access to our knowledge. However you perceive your wares, the reality is that we all must implement a procedure to measure our services for the purposes of compensation.
When our group first brainstormed the topic of timekeeping, memories came flooding back. For the younger folks, it was like watching a history book come to life, and for those seasoned timekeepers, it was reminiscent of a high school reunion. And when we were brainstorming a title for this month’s post, Erika looked at Sierra and quoted one of our firm’s favorite YouTube clips “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” If you have a moment to spare or need a reason to procrastinate, click here.
When I think about how timekeeping was tracked and billed back in the day, the first word that pops into my head is “archaic”. I literally used a box which originally stored one ream of paper to file the time slips prepared by the attorneys. These time slips were on 8 ½ by 11 size sheets with carbon copy attached. Each day the attorney would fill these sheets in with their time and I would file each individual timesheet by client name alphabetically in that box. When it was time to prepare a bill for a client, I would take the stack of time slips for that client and prepare a typewritten invoice for review by the attorney. Yes, you heard right… typewritten on a typewriter. We did not have a computer so each invoice was prepared and sometimes revised over and over on a typewriter. Those carbon sheets got the best of me at times. The magic number at the end of the invoice was then handwritten on a yellow ledger card and filed alphabetically in the bookkeeper’s office “for easy access”.
Fast forward to the 21st century after the advent of the computer. Billing software became available but there were major flaws with their functionality according to its users. Idiom Translation: These software programs were for the birds!
When I started as a legal assistant in 2003 the office I worked for used Time Slips. The attorney I worked for did not require I keep track of my time, but he himself would hand write all his time on carbon copy sheets for me to enter into Time Slips. Time Slips itself was a very time consuming program; there was no easy way to enter all the slips at once and print an invoice for all clients. You had to open a new page within the system for each slip and enter all the information for that client and that day. Because the program did not save anything from one slip to the next, you had to keep re-entering the basic information. Each screen was also very cluttered. It tried to fit a lot of information on a small page that was not pretty. It was also very difficult to print client invoices. You had to go into each client and choose the slips you wanted to print on each invoice, and there was no batch billing.
In 2010, I began using QuickBooks for timekeeping. I felt this system was fairly easy but it reminded me a lot of Time Matter, a system I had I used after Time Slips which required more training. With QuickBooks, you could enter time without a lot of hassle but actually printing out invoices caused many, many problems. You couldn’t print a pre-bill! Who prints an invoice on every client, every time without having to make changes? Not us, that’s for sure! This meant once we printed an invoice the attorney couldn’t review and change the invoice without a lot of frustration and hassle to go through and make items billable again and redo the entire bill. Also, the system couldn’t be accessed from anywhere. Not being able to enter time as it is being done makes for a lot of lost time.
Introduction to Time Matters happened when I moved to Florida over 10 years ago. I thought Wow, this is pretty futuristic; capturing your time, calendaring and document management. What more could I ask for… And don’t get me started with the use of QuickBooks for Time keeping and invoicing. That felt like taking a step back rather than moving forward. For me, there was nothing simple about QuickBooks.
It is easy to see why time keeping is so dreaded after reading about its evolution. But it wasn’t simply the program or the method used to track time that elicited visceral reactions from some members of the firm. It was the necessary evil of having to record your time because that is how a law firm makes money.
I personally see an attorney’s value as a hybrid of time and expertise. I think that time is a very valuable benchmark in determining the value of so many services; especially litigation. It goes without saying that no two cases are exactly the same and that each case has unique facts and circumstances requiring the attorneys involved to apply their expertise over time.
I hate time keeping! That could be a rallying cry of many of us. Of course, without it, we don’t get paid, so what’s the solution?
Time keeping UGGHHHH! It has always been my least favorite activity in the practice of law. Maybe it is because I undervalue my time. Timekeeping not only seems like a chore, but it also makes me out right anxious at times. Part of the anxiety comes from finishing a task and having to record it instead of moving onto the next task, which then starts a debate in my mind where I begin to weigh the amount of time the task took with the cost to a client.
My problem with timekeeping seems to stem from my method of working and how conducive it is to capturing time. I go through peaks and valleys with my timekeeping. Sometimes I am extremely attentive to capturing time by inputting it on a daily basis as it occurs. Other times, especially when things get busy, I tend to slip up. I move from a call to a meeting to drafting seamlessly and then realize at the end of the day I haven’t kept track of my time, at which time I begin to re-recreate it. When this occurs, it is always to the client’s benefit and the firm’s burden since I have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time spent on each task.
One alternative to the billable hour is a flat fee, and when we discussed time-keeping, Logan and Jet addressed the pros and cons of the flat fee.
There is the other side of the coin when it comes to time record keeping: the office whose practice lends itself to such a narrow scope of law that it is simpler to bill on a “flat fee” than it is to base the billing on a time basis. That is an enviable position, however not particularly practical for most law offices.
Many legal issues are less fact sensitive and more results driven and therefore more appropriate for a flat-fee structure. For example, if a particular legal service has a value-based price of $3,500 and typically takes 10 hours to produce; your time for that particular service is valued at $350 per hour. However, what happens when that needy client approaches you for the same $3,500 job, but because needy clients are the way they are, they first meet with you in your office four times as opposed to one, change their minds at least once midway through the project, and then call you six to eight times to follow-up and seek validation that what they are doing is right. Suddenly, this 10 hour job has morphed into a 20 hour nightmare.
How does an attorney adjust for these unforeseen hang-ups? Did you still produce a $3,500 product? Yes. Did it take far longer than it should have through no fault of your own? Yes. Is it appropriate to bill $7,000 for this particular job? I think it is. Under this example, the attorney used their expertise to produce a solution to the client’s problem and the solution has a value of $3,500. However, this client’s other issues cost the attorney $3,500 in lost opportunity.
Without a yardstick to measure these unforeseen setbacks, it would be impossible to determine what this client actually cost our attorney. As ugly as it is to live your life six minutes at a time, it may be the only way to measure what you might be losing under a value-based billing model.
For Dine Law, it became very clear that we needed time-keeping program that was simple to use and was mobile. While we do bill much of our estate planning services on a flat fee, we are also litigators and that side of our practice lends itself better to the billable hour. In our firm, decisions are made by consensus after researching and sharing the information we’ve all gathered. January 1, 2013 was our “drop dead” date for using QuickBooks to keep track of our time. So we demoed Rocket Matter, Clio and Bill4Time. Confession: Sierra and Heather did the demos for all three & Diane looked into Clio & Rocker Matter. Meanwhile, Erika shouted “Rocket Matter” from the rooftops and Logan blissfully ignored all of the hoopla around this decision. The rest of us made Logan promise he would not complain with the final decision since he was not participating in any demos. Erika, Diane and Heather all had previous experience with Rocket Matter, and it quickly became the clear frontrunner.
In December of 2008, I started my own practice. I knew if I was going to open my doors, I would need a way to pay to have a door in the first place. I set about looking for a system that would be user friendly, not cost me much (I had very little money for start- up costs), and actually would be pretty. Starting out on my own, the one thing that scared me the most was technology. I could send and receive email but I had no other knowledge. I was not sure of what to do or use for anything. I did not want to become a computer guru and I certainly did not want to have to have an IT person. IT people quite frankly terrified me. They spoke droid and I never could interpret. I wanted a simplistic system that I could handle on my own and could be easily used. I started to research and learned of a new software billing system called Rocket matter. I took the demo and was immediately hooked. First it was pretty! Second, it was so easy to use. I could set up my contacts, calendar, and new clients and I could access all of the above from my cell phone. Oh and I could bill an appointment that was calendared at a click of a button. It changed the fate of my billing and my ability to manage my business on my own.
When I began working for Erika Dine in 2009 she was just starting with a new program, Rocket Matter. She asked me to start keeping track of my time. At first I was nervous, to say the least, I had never kept track of my own time. As I became more familiar with the system, which was a very simple and easy to use system, I realized it wasn’t difficult. Rocket Matter doesn’t have a lot of “bells and whistles” but it gives you the necessary tools to get what you came for accomplished. There isn’t a lot of clutter on your screen and is very straight forward. Rocket Matter gave us the flexibility to enter time anywhere. We didn’t have to be logged in to our desktop computer, we could login from our phones or home computers because it was all web/cloud based.
Erika joined forces with a firm in 2010 and when she did so, she had to transition to QuickBooks for timekeeping. Talk about banging your head against a brick wall. Erika, Heather and Diane waved goodbye to mobility and easy to read screens.
I briefly partnered with another firm and reverted back to billing in QuickBooks. Ugh…. Again, the amount of time I captured decreased. I found the system ugly compared to Rocket matter and not user friendly at all. I kept my Rocket Matter account open with the hope that I could ultimately convince the firm to use it. Not long after realizing I was a MAC and the other firm a PC, I went back out on my own and once again have used Rocket matter in my firm. I am not sure I will ever capture 100% of my time. I know I do not bill every phone call or every minute of my work. I know that I have a system that addresses my weakness of billing, is user friendly, and it is easy on my eyes.
Thank goodness we are now back to using Rocket Matter! I feel this has been one of the best decisions we’ve made as a firm. Time gets tracked a lot more efficiently and therefore there isn’t as much wasted time fixing invoices!
When I joined Dine Law, I was introduced to Rocket Matter. Unlike some of my coworkers, the looks of the time keeping program were pretty low on my list of requirements. What I do find rewarding about Rocket Matter is that it not only displays your total daily billable hours in big numbers, it also displays your real-time accounts receivable in the lower right-hand portion of your screen. In addition, as my position in the firm evolved, so did my need to generate invoices within the software. I learned that Rocket Matter is much more flexible than QuickBooks and makes editing invoices a smoother, faster process.
Needless to say, 26 years later, I am happy to report and am a proud user of Rocket Matter. Capturing your time, invoicing, printing and revising invoices is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
As we mention in the disclaimer above, there are several choices available for time-keeping in the cloud, and we happen to be writing about Rocket Matter because that is the best fit for Dine Law. Its uncluttered screens, simplicity and mobility appealed to us. We encourage you to find what works for you, but most importantly, to spend some time analyzing and refining your time-keeping habits. Several of us at Dine Law use the timer function within Rocket Matter to keep time. Sometimes we keep a post-it note handy to write down when we start a telephone conversation. Sierra has developed quite an obsession with the Pomdoro Technique which is gaining momentum with Heather and Erika.
There is a small piece of technology combined with a workflow technique that is resulting in better time capturing results for me. The best part is that it was no cost to the firm, involved a couple minutes to download and only takes will power to implement. The method is called the Pomodoro Technique and it is very simple. For those of you who will not be able to sleep without learning its origin, it was created by an Italian university student who, in an effort to improve his study habits, set a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato in 25 minute increments. The idea is to work on one task for 25 minutes without distraction, then take a 5 minute break. After 4 “tomatoes”, take a longer break of 30 minutes or so.
I am using one at this very moment to create my first draft of this post. It’s a virtual tomato so as not to distract my coworkers with an annoying shrill. I downloaded it for free here. It’s a little tomato soup can that swings back and forth, and when the 25 minutes is up, it does a little dance (Cheesy, yet rewarding!).
I ignore all calls and emails even though the Outlook notification keeps popping up in the lower right hand corner of my screen, and it is taking everything in me to stay on task. But I know that if I keep pushing through this “tomato” I will have a better product than if I give in to the temptation of diverting my attention to another task.
WARNING: A Tomato addiction could ensue. I do notice the tomatoes get me frazzled. Once I complete one tomato, I want to finish two, and then three and four and so forth. After a day of tomatoes, I step outside and feel strangely irritated because I want to fit the rest of my life into tomatoes – STAT- and I feel like I’ve failed because its early evening and I’ve not exercised or planned for dinner and I now I need to spend 15 minutes in my car driving to my next destination. I take a few deep breaths to come down from my tomato high and realize that I only need to use the Pomodoro Technique to make my work life more efficient and not my personal life. I have managed to keep calm and carry on.
I liked the idea of the Pomodoro Technique but had some resistance because I didn’t like the little dancing soup can on my screen. I finally did some research and found several other free programs that were more appealing to me. You can find them here. I now use the Pomodoro Technique happily, even though it’s not to the same extent as Sierra.
We hope you have enjoyed this trip down the memory lane of time-keeping and can appreciate how technology has made recording the billable hour a little less painful. We also hope you have been inspired to improve your time-keeping practices and research ways technology can help you in this endeavor. We will leave you with some final thoughts from Jet and Logan that captures how far we’ve come and the necessary evils of billing and time-keeping.
The fact of the matter is that before the advent of our friend, the computer, it was not a simple matter to keep good accurate time records. Today, with many wonderful, simple and fairly easy to use programs on the market, keeping more accurate time records has become, at least workable.
While it may not be right for everyone, tracking time is a valuable yardstick with which to measure your business. And even though living life in six minute increments can be frustrating, it can also be very rewarding when you see that little number in the bottom right-hand corner of your Rocket Matter screen climb and climb.