THOMSON REUTERS ELITE

WINTER 2014 EDITION

Forefront
 

Time for a Timekeeping Audit

With all of the buzz around the Suffolk/Flaherty Legal Tech Audit focusing on lawyer technology proficiencies, its time firms recognize that proficiency, efficiency, and value (or lack thereof) are communicated to clients via every time entry-based invoice. As such, legal professionals’ ability to enter time accurately and, more importantly, in a timely fashion for anytime client consumption should be where the law firm bar is set in defining best practices around timekeeping. Maintaining this level of timekeeping performance may be a leap for firms as evidenced by a recent statement made by Flaherty describing his days in private practice where he stated “…the office got real quiet on the day time needed to be closed. …lawyers were working feverishly to allocate their hours among their days, matters, and clients.”

Similarly, as someone who has been involved in law firm timekeeping for the last two decades, statements like “we have no problem with our timekeeping system with the exception of the last week of the month when the system slows down due to the volume of time being submitted” further demonstrate the importance of contemporaneous time capture as it relates to the law firm client relationship and the existing disconnect. In fact, it would not surprise me if metrics surrounding time capture may one day find themselves part of tech audits such as Suffolk/Flaherty essentially rating law firms in their ability to contemporaneously record time, or prove their TQ (trust quotient)!

Auditing Transparency and Productivity

Regardless of the threat of an audit, knowing the firm is effective in timekeeping backed by actual metrics can simultaneously improve revenues and enhance client relationships. In a nutshell, it is simply good business. So how do law firms engage in their own timekeeping audit with a goal of improving timekeeping effectiveness?

Define the Metric

The metric that has gained popularity and correlates directly with contemporaneous timekeeping is the Velocity of Capture, which essentially measures the delay in days between time worked and time recorded. In fact, it has garnered industry press with some influencers referring to it as an excellent gauge to measure the quality of a firm’s time inventory. A timekeeper entering time daily would have a velocity metric of 0 days, whereas a timekeeper entering time weekly would average 2 days of velocity or lag. Obviously, the closer to zero the better.

Knowing capture velocity right down to the timekeeper level allows the firm to gauge the quality and timeliness of its inventory. Also, if a client ever requests immediate real time access to work in progress, the firm will be able to gauge readiness prior to opening its doors using the velocity metrics for the specific matter or client.

Take Metrics Seriously

The next and equally important step is to incorporate the metric as an integral part of firm and client policy. Once this is clearly articulated and a part of standard operating procedures, a campaign to drive firm awareness is warranted, including its constant visibility within the timekeeping systems. The metric can even be included as part of the lawyer compensation formula, which is not uncommon in firms that have made transparent and accurate timekeeping a priority in recent years.

Audit Timekeeping Technology

Lastly, a review of the systems in place for timekeeping should be undertaken. One of the reasons velocity stats have been rather poor, especially in North America, relates directly to the type of systems used to capture time, which have been predominately administration heavy. Administrative-heavy systems typically discourage immediate ”jot-it-down” capture in that they demand fully validated entries from the timekeeper. As such, timekeepers will have difficulty improving velocity when presented with these types of technologies. A capture process that can start with an incomplete entry, followed by a compliance workflow all within a collaborative (timekeeper–assistant) environment, forms the foundation of a modern timekeeping system and the modern service professional. Taking it one step further and extending this concept to any device platform either at the office or on the road completes the definition.

The good news is that consumer technologies which have become second nature to busy professionals, including the use of mobile applications (thanks to Apple®) can easily be leveraged into improving overall timekeeping performance in law firms. This is the low hanging fruit opportunity for better timekeeping. Many firms are already engaged in extending their timekeeping policies to incorporate these technologies which significantly extend the capture opportunities available for professionals. The key differentiator with consumer technologies is that timekeeping now resides where the professionals are actively engaged which removes the single largest barrier to success – user participation, or more specifically, contemporaneous user participation.

Regardless of whether timekeeping performance will ever be tested within an official competency audit or if the firm will be obliged to expose its work-in-progress in real time, reviewing timekeeping performance should not be taken lightly. Fundamentally, the law firm invoice is an important means of communication with a firm’s clients, and its accuracy and timeliness tie directly to the trust element of the relationship. If done right, the improved velocity metric can improve the relationship and at the same time improve revenues, something no firm should dismiss.


Tikit

Tikit is one of the largest suppliers of technology solutions and services to legal and accounting firms, and is part of BT Group. Tikit's client list totals more than 1,450 firms globally, including 90 of the UK's top 100 law firms, 250 US law firms, 12 of the top 20 European law firms and 18 of the UK's top 50 accountancy firms. Click here for more information.

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