Timesheet Terrors

When I was a paralegal at a law firm in Los Angeles right after college, I grew to hate timesheets as much as I hated L.A. traffic. Every Friday around 4 p.m., the office manager would walk the halls to collect our timesheets. Because I was too lazy to fill out mine on a daily basis, I had to spend a good hour every Friday afternoon recreating my workweek.

It also was never clear to me who should pay for my mistakes. Should I charge the client for the 25 minutes it took me to extract its mangled pleading from the bowels of the jammed copy machine? And what about the 15 minutes it took me to clean the ink off my hands after a run in with my Bates stamper? And who should pay for the four-and-a-half hours I once spent summarizing the wrong depositions?

Needless to say, I felt bad for the in-house counsel who were sitting in the room during Kevin Harrang's keynote address at the recent Legal Tech conference in California. During his presentation, Harrang, deputy general counsel at Microsoft Corp., said he is hearing about more and more legal departments that are requiring their lawyers to fill out timesheets. We've heard similar stories on our end.

Some departments are using timesheets because they charge back business units for legal services. That seems like a reasonable application.

Others have begun using timesheets in response to increasing pressure to measure legal department performance and find ways to make their departments more productive and efficient.

Filling out timesheets, though, isn't the best way to measure productivity (what it does measure is how creative employees are at accounting for their time). And it certainly doesn't make employees more efficient. In fact, the opposite is true. The biggest weakness of a time sheet is that it will never tell you whether a lawyer is doing a good job for his or her client.

According to Harrang, his department came to a similar conclusion when the issue came up for debate at Microsoft. Management felt the outcome of the legal department's efforts were a much better measure of productivity than a minute-by-minute account of an in-house lawyer's time.

Timesheets also are bad for morale. I've never met a lawyer who enjoyed filling out a timesheet. For many, it's the absence of timesheets that made going in-house so attractive in the first place.

Staff Writer

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