New Lawyers Practice of Law

Time Records Are Not Just for Hourly Billing

467030103Many attorneys, especially those in small offices, limit their timekeeping efforts to cases billed on an hourly basis. This can be a big mistake! Here’s why.

Keeping time records for most cases is useful because

  1. You can justify attorney fees to the court. Keeping accurate records of time spent on cases is essential when you get a positive result and the court awards you attorney fees. Judges are generally more inclined to award fees for time that has been contemporaneously recorded and maintained throughout the course of the litigation than for time reconstructed near the conclusion.
  2. It shows reasonable value of your services. Accurate time tracking can become very important in contingency fee cases. If your services are discharged before a recovery, there will be a question on how to measure your compensation because you’ll no longer entitled to the contingency fee amount but instead entitled to the reasonable value of your services. Fracasse v Brent (1972) 6 C3d 784. The best way to establish the reasonable value of your services is by submitting the time records that you maintained.
  3. It helps set flat fee pricing. In the case of a flat fee, time-keeping will help you determine if the fee you’re charging is commensurate with the time required to complete the case (and thereby aid in determining profitability of handling the case).

Make sure to keep daily time records for all work performed—whether by attorneys, paralegals, or other support staff, and whether it involved billable or nonbillable time. Also, record time when it’s performed, not at the end of the day or week; this practice will help ensure accurate and complete time records.

Remember, you can always decide later not to charge for certain tasks or to reduce excessive time. Make these decisions when you’re preparing the client’s billing statement, not when the time is logged.

For advice on accepting cases and implementing office procedures, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chapter 1. Get more information on timekeeping and billing in CEB’s California Basic Practice Handbook, chap 1.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

2 replies on “Time Records Are Not Just for Hourly Billing”

I would also add that in flat fee + contingent cases, if you still keep your time, you can demonstrate the vale you are delivering to your client by showing them how much representation would have cost had they gone the hourly route. Most clients will be extremely happy to know they are “getting a deal.”

As painful as it is, the benefits of keeping time far outweigh the downsides.

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