Many law firms are rethinking the billable hour as the primary basis for assessing client fees, but for now the question of how to encourage lawyers to complete and submit their time sheets continues to demand attention.

Todd Gerstein, CEO and founder of Smart WebParts, surveyed a group of lawyers on LinkedIn about their firms’ time-sheet-completion compliance policies, and how they encourage their lawyers to adhere to them. The results make interesting reading.

Most firms with high compliance rates attributed their success to measures that most would consider punitive. These included: shutting delinquents out of the time-tracking system if they were more than three days overdue on their reporting; requiring them to confess their laggard ways to office managers or senior partners in order to regain access; imposing fines; and including time-sheet tardiness in deliberations over year-end compensation. Such strategies ultimately led to nearly 100% compliance at most firms.

Those firms whose lawyers were habitually late with time-sheet reporting used less draconian systems. They often simply asked partners and associates to submit their time sheets once a week (or so). Without imposing penalties for failing to comply, these firms ended up chasing down culprits every month.

Lawyers often feel they are too busy putting out fires to worry about recording where every six minutes of their time went. However, accurate billing is essential not only to the bottom line but also to maintaining positive relationships with clients.

Gerstein concludes, “While it seems there is no magic bullet, the ability to compare approaches and policies at least begins to shed some light on what can work to boost compliance.” Reading his column is of value for this reason, and his blog posts often offer other excellent ideas regarding law-firm time management.

Your comments and feedback on this issue or any other are always welcome, either on this blog or via my email.