Lawyers generally dislike timekeeping. Naturally, nobody enjoys measuring out the time of his life in small increments appearing on the other side of a computer screen. At least you’re getting paid. And, at least there are ever-increasing ways to capture your time, while you pass it. If you’ve got an established workflow, there’s likely a way for you to capture it in a highly efficient manner.
Leaving aside paper and pen, as well as traditional software applications not built exclusively for the purpose (like Word), there are four modern time capture options, as follows:
Standalone Timekeepers. Strict timekeeping programs will track your time, whether manually or automatically, and create logs, which can be exported to popular accounting programs, like Quickbooks. Most of these products utilize a manual stopwatch, as it were, which you start and stop for individual tasks. Some popular products in this line include: RTG Bills, Tabs3, Bill4Time, TimeSolv Legal and TurboLaw Time and Billing.
Features of Comprehensive Products. A careful reader of the prior section will note that certain of those listed products will additionally offer accounting features (e.g. — RTG Bills), internal office management features (e.g. — Bill4Time), project management features (e.g. — TimeSolv) or be affiliated to broader practice management products (e.g. — Tabs3 and PracticeMaster). It’s tough to escape office management features these days (don’t I know it . . .); and, many time capture softwares have been similarly invaded. But, it’s clear that many attorneys find their time capture protocol within the larger purchase of a law practice management software system; and, it does make sense to integrate various law practice management functions, where you can — though, having one system doesn’t work for everybody. I’ve written on the value of law practice management software, here (with an update, here).
Automatic Timekeepers. On the theory that most of your work is done on a computerized device of some sort, there are timekeepers that will monitor your computer use, and generate logs, which can ultimately be converted to invoices. This eliminates the problem of having to remember to manually start and stop a timer; of course, some training is necessary to make these programs really hum, and to sufficiently automate the process. I’ve written on the potential value of these sorts of products, here. HoursTracking is a new entry in this field (and one with an attractive pricing model) that I did not cover in my original post.
Apps. There’s an app for that, right? Sure is. A significant number of the products mentioned/referenced above are available as apps, or available via smartphones/across devices; but, that’s nothing like an exhaustive list. Neither is this; but, for iPhone and Android users (the primary smartphone choices for attorneys, with apologies to Blackberry, Palm and Zach Morris phone users): iPhone JD’s Jeff Richardson provides a comprehensive, if somewhat antiquated, list of iPhone apps, here; and, Droid Lawyer Jeff Taylor links to a similar LifeHacker list for Android apps, complete with his own take on the best timekeeping app for that device. At both of these blogs, reviews of individual timekeeping apps crop up from time to time, as well.
Certainly, my categories do not represent buckets, since there is much overlap in play, they’re more like a Venn diagram; and, it is not inconceivable that as many as three types of tools could be implicated in just one product’s offering. But, I think that speaks to the flexibility of modern technology, which is, generally, a very good thing for lawyers.
Whatever method you might think works for you, try it before you buy it, and get buy-in to it. Most software products will offer a free trial of some length, usually 30 days.
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