Susan Smith Blakely

Good Time Keeping—- A Must for Women Lawyers

Timekeeping --- I know, a subject that you would rather not discuss.  It is burdensome and annoying and the situation is getting worse.  Now law firms are starting to require timekeeping on a daily basis and penalties for not submitting billable time in a "timely" manner.

UGH!  Daily, really?  Yes, daily.  And you should be glad that you are an organized woman, who is capable of multi-tasking and compartmentalizing effectively.  YOU can do this.  It is going to be a lot harder for lawyers, who do not have those skills.  Think male lawyers, here!  Trust me, it is going to be a lot harder for them.  I have seen it in action.

Above the Law reported recently that the "proper keeping of time for all of those billable hours generated by toiling associates has never been more important."  Of course, because law firms are struggling to find every possible source of revenue as they recover from a recession that was devastating to the profession.  As a result, law firms are initiating some new "motivational" techniques to get the cooperation of lawyers in reporting billable hours on time.

Fulbright & Jaworski describes its new policy as an effort to "minimize unnecessary loss of billable time due to delayed time entry."  The new policy requires attorneys to record time on a daily basis and includes exemptions for "exceptional circumstances" that are not very liberal.  AND, the kicker is that only time reported in accordance with the new policy will be considered for the purposes of bonuses.  OUCH!

So, how outrageous is this?  After some insinuation that this policy is really harsh for associates seeking bonuses, ATL finally recognizes that there is no problem if associates just follow the rule.  We are surrounded by rules, this is just another one.  AND, in my experience this one is a blessing in disguise.  Here's why.

I have a little experience with recording billable hours.  I have seen attorneys do it well, and I have seen others struggle to recreate a month of billable time.  That is not only excruciatingly painful, but it is anything but efficient, as the law firms recognize.  Fulbright & Jaworski is not the only firm initiating these new policies.  I am aware of others with similar punitive policies, and I am sure that many other firms will follow suit.

Here's some advice based on my personal experience.  I always recorded my time at the end of each day.  I kept a running record of time billed during the day and transferred that information to a time sheet or electronic recorder at the end of each day.  Call me obsessive, but it worked then, even without the motivational techniques, and it will work now.

With that small effort, you not only will have a "real time" daily record of your billable time, but you also will have a running tally to compare with your targeted annual billable hours.  It helps a lot when you want to take some time off for a vacation.  You enjoy yourself more when you know that you have "time" to spare.

Got for it.  Do the right thing and make it easier on yourself at the same time --- even if your firm does not yet have a policy.  It will pay off.

And be thankful that you are a woman --- for whom this kind of thing comes naturally!

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 



Keeping track at the end of the day is such a great habit to start, and the earlier you start the better. This is something I struggled with when I started practicing, because even in legal aid we have to track time—everyone has to “show their work.”  For those that aren’t naturally organized (like me) I recently wrote a piece about organization and time-tracking.  You can read it here:
But my number one tip is to keep written records of what you’re doing -as you do them-for easier and quicker recall.

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