For lawyers who bill by the hour and conduct any business out of the office, timekeeping no longer requires a combination of paper, pen, and wristwatch. Billable time tracking can now be done through an app on your phone, whether it be Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows, or any other. Let's take a look at the features of some of these apps and how they can make recording your time, and billing for it, easier.
The two basic steps for recording time are 1) entering information on your clients and the tasks you're performing for them, and 2) clocking in and out on a particular task.
With regard to the first step, look for the ability to easily configure your clients and tasks. You'll want to be able to add, reorder, and delete your clients and tasks using your phone's familiar controls. Sophisticated billing apps designed for attorneys may come with a built-in list of common activity types and work code numbers. If there are any presets, make sure they are customizable. Getting your clients and tasks entered will take a few minutes up front, but subsequently you'll be able to quickly select them from a list or menu. Some apps will allow you to record time first and assign that time to a task and client after.
Most apps will enable you to start and stop task billing with a single touch. The app will be able to account for breaks in your work--just remember to clock in and out. The app may have a status bar notification icon that will alert you to the fact you're clocked in on a particular task, making it easy to remember to clock out.
What would happen if you had a timer running and the phone got turned off or the application quit? A good app should be able to keep on tracking your time until you reenter the app and manually stop the timer. Also, for you multi-taskers: the ability to have simultaneously running timers would be good. Not that you're going to be billing twice for the same work, but you can set up timers for various tasks in advance and be clocked in and out on them throughout the day.
A nice feature of many apps is the ability to specify custom time tracking increments per client, such as tenths-of-hours, quarter-hours, or half-hours. The app may be able to round recorded time up or down by hours, minutes, or even seconds.
Apart from the stopwatch-like functionality, you'll also want to be able to manually modify or add to billed time, and manually enter complete time records in the past or future. You may need to go back and change the start and end times, billing rates, notes, or any other data field included within the app.
Timecards and Reports
Once your time is recorded, the app should be able to present the recorded information in a variety of ways. You'll be able to preview your "timecard," with daily, weekly, or monthly totals per task. This may be an area for comparison shopping, as you may prefer the look and format of a particular app's reports.
Simple tracking apps are designed to merely record your time. The more robust tracking apps, however, allow you to generate invoices based on the time you've recorded. Compare apps to see which ones generate invoices straight from the app, and which ones require you to export timesheet data to an external program, such as Excel. If it's the latter, check which formats the reports can be exported in--plain text, HTML email, CSV (for Excel), etc. A useful feature for legal tasks and matters is the ability to provide an optional note for each billing entry.
Time tracking and billing apps are not expensive. Some are built for a specific mobile operating system, but others will work across platforms--something to think about if you plan on switching from an iPhone to an Android phone, for example. If you plan on doing more with the app than recording time, look at its billing features, because some apps will keep track of expenses, or allow you to record billable and nonbillable time. Compare apps at Google Play, the Apple iPhone app store, BlackBerry App World, and other online app stores.
This article was originally published on May 14, 2012. For a more up to date discussion on this topic, please visit the Mobile/Smartphones section at FindLaw’s Technologist blog.