Keeping Track of Your Time

By Paul Couenhoven

The saying goes, “Time is money.” In appointed criminal appellate practice, keeping track of your time can be money. When I review claims, I often can tell that attorneys have not billed for all their work. For example, we keep track of the time spent on the phone with panel attorneys. I often find that the time claimed for consultation with the project on a specific case is under the time I have recorded. I also sometimes find that attorneys have not billed for some minor pleading which I find in our file. I can only conclude that the attorney did not keep track of all the time spent on the

Lack of careful timekeeping is probably encouraged by the guidelines-driven payment process. However, if you actually keep track of your time chances are you will obtain greater payment because you will remember to bill for every simple task you perform while working on the case. You can keep track of your time without purchasing or learning to use time-keeping software such as TimeSlips. Instead, you can use familiar software which is probably already installed on your computer: Quicken, or similar programs which most of you use to keep track of your money. It requires very little time and will pay dividends in the end.

I am familiar with Quicken, which I used to keep track of my time when I was in private practice. I will describe the time-keeping process using Quicken. The same procedures can probably be used in similar software.

In Quicken, set up a new cash account and call it “appeals” or something similar. Then set up categories for each line on the claim form. There are 24 lines. You can set up a category list based on numbers where the number corresponds with the line on the compensation claim form: “01" for client communication; “02" for record review; “03" for extensions of time, etc. Alternatively, you could use words for the categories, keeping in mind that the shorter the word you use, the less time it takes to type it in the computer. Thus, “cl” could be used for client communication, “rr” for record review, “eot” for extension of time, etc. The advantage of the numbers system is that when you generate a report (see below), the categories will appear in exactly the same order as you will enter them on your claim. If you use letters, the report will be generated in alphabetical order, which will not line up with the claim lines.

Expenses are easier to keep track of because there are usually only four categories: copying, binding, postage and phone. You can use one- or two-letter codes for these categories, such as “c,” “b,” “p” and “ph.” Alternatively, you could stick with the numbers system and use “H1," “H2.," H3” and “H4," which correspond to the lines on the claim form.

After creating categories set up a class list using the name of your client or an abbreviation of the name to save time entering the data. You do not need to set up a list ahead of time; you can create a new class entry the first time you bill for that case.

Once you have your cash account set up in Quicken keeping track of your time is easy. Keep track of the time it takes to complete a task, whether it involves reading a client’s letter or writing the opening brief. When you complete a task, switch over to Quicken, where you have already opened your account named “appeals” or whatever other name you choose. The date is already there. <Tab> to the box for “payee.” Describe the work you just performed: “2 pg ltr fr cl,” “Brady argument,” “pc tc; IAC invest.” Then <tab> to either the “receive” or “spend” box. I use the “receive” box because it generates a positive number. However, you can just as easily use the “spend” box. Just be sure you always use the same box (or column) for entering your time and expenses, so that when you generate a report it will give you an accurate total.

Next <tab> to the “category” box. Enter the category which fits the performed task. If you are using a numbers category list corresponding to the line numbers on the claim, you would enter “01" for reading a letter from the client, “06" for writing a Brady argument in the opening brief, and “22" for calling trial counsel to investigate an IAC claim (line 22 is “other services” on the claim form). At first, a numbered category list will require consultation with a list, but you will soon remember the appropriate number without consulting any list. Next, enter a slash (“/”) and then enter the name or abbreviation corresponding to the case. Rather than creating a class list ahead of time, you can add to the class list each time you bill for the first task on a case. When you enter a name the program does not recognize (e.g., “Jones,M”) for the first time you work on Mark Jones’s case, Quicken will ask if you want to add “Jones,M” to the class list. You affirm that you do, and the next time you enter “Jones,M” after the “/,” Quicken will recognize it.

I usually do not use the memo box, but if you want to add some further description of the task performed, you can do it here. Then <tab> to the enter button, press <return> and you are done. Performing this task will soon take less than ten seconds.

Enter expenses the same way, except that you will enter a dollar amount (“.37" for mailing a letter; “25.50" for binding a brief) instead of an amount based on time. The remainder of the task is identical, as you describe the expense (“binding reply”), enter an amount, enter a category (“b”) and a class (“Jones,M”) and press the return key to enter the data.

When it is time to file a bill, generate a report which contains the totals for each category. It is usually helpful to generate a summary report, which lists the totals in each category, and a transaction report which lists each separate entry, subtotaled by category.

To generate a case-specific report, go to the “Reports” menu at the top of your Quicken screen. Within the options, find the “summary” report. Each version of the program may place the summary report option in a different location within the “Reports” menu. The first time you generate a summary report you may have to hunt for it.

When the “create report” window opens, be sure the date parameters will include all the work you have performed on the case. By default, Quicken will produce a year-to-date report. If you performed work on the case in the previous year or years, you will have to change the first date to the first day you performed work on the case. You can always make the first date earlier to be over inclusive.

After your date parameters are set, select “Customize.” The first window that appears concerns the “Display” of your report. If you are generating a summary report, make sure the “Row” heading is set to “Category” and the “Column” heading is set to “Don’t Subtotal.” Then select the “include” tab. Choose “classes.” Select “Clear all.” Scroll to the case you are billing for, and select that case only. A check mark (√) will appear next to the case. Then select “Create.” Quicken will produce a summary report which has the totals for each category in your case. Print the report and transfer the figures to the appropriate line in your bill.

In a simple case with no tasks which were out of the ordinary, a summary report is probably all you need. A transaction report is essential for a complex bill which includes many tasks which fall under “other services.” The transaction report will subtotal all your other services and you can add up the separate tasks you have performed: four phone calls to CDC totaling .5 hours; 2 letters and 2 phone calls to the courts totaling .7 hours; 3.6 hours conducting a habeas investigation which was ultimately unfruitful; 2.5 hours reading trial counsel’s file; etc. If you find that most of your other services are repetitive, you might want to always enter certain tasks on a specific “other services” line. For example, you might decide to always categorize habeas investigation as “22," phone calls to the CDC as “23" and phone calls to the courts as “24.” If you choose to use names rather than numbers for your categories, you might want to create categories for other services you routinely perform, such as “cdc” for phone calls to the CDC; “hab” for habeas investigation, “ct” for communication with the courts, etc.

To generate a case-specific transaction report, go to the “Reports” menu at the top of your Quicken screen and choose “transaction” report. When the “create report” window opens, again change the date parameters if necessary to include all the work you have performed on the case. Then select “customize.” The first window that appears concerns the “Display” of your report. For a transaction report, make sure to select “subtotal by categories” in the “Headings” box. Then select “include.” Choose “classes.” Select “Clear all.” Scroll to the case you are billing for, and select that case only. Then select “Create.” Quicken will produce a report which lists each of your entries separately, subtotaled by category. Print the report and transfer the figures to the appropriate line in your bill.

Time keeping can also expedite the process of justifying items which are over the guidelines. With the exception of record review, the guidelines are just that: a rule of thumb as to what is a reasonable amount of time for a certain item of work. Guidelines can be exceeded if the attorney provides an adequate explanation. For example, the guideline maximum for communication with client and trial counsel is 3.5 hours. A claim under 3.5 hours for client communication will be paid automatically. In a case with a demanding and savvy client, however, the guideline easily can be exceeded. Compensation over the guidelines can be approved if the attorney provides an adequate explanation. For client communication, an adequate explanation would include the number of letters written and received, the total number of pages of those letters, and the number of phone calls made. If you have kept track of your time, providing a justification along these lines is simple. A transaction report, sub-totaled for the category of client communications, will give you the data to quickly add up the numbers of letters and phone calls, and even the number of pages involved if you wrote that information on the payee line.

With a little practice, time-keeping will take no time, and you will probably get a little more

June 3, 2005

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