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How To Clearly Understand the Surprising Impact of Mobile Timekeeping

Over the last 10 years, I’ve helped a large number of legal firms to implement mobile timekeeping solutions. (Yes, mobile timekeeping has been around that long!) And because I care about the success of their projects, after three or so months. I call firms back and ask how it’s working out. And you know what? People are polite. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. But all too often they say, “Well Peter, it works well. We don’t get complaints. But the thing is, only about a third of our lawyers are using the technology.” At this point, they’re hesitant. Reluctant to have me hear their hard, unobstructed truth. But here it comes. “Peter, we just don’t feel it’s been very successful, I’m afraid. But hey, thanks for getting in touch.”

So now everyone’s disappointed. My client feels unhappy that a project didn’t work out as they’d hoped. I feel disappointed because yet another client is looking at the wrong measure of success. It’s at this point that I have to surprise them. “Actually, that’s okay,” I say. “That sounds pretty typical. Maybe you should be looking at it another way.”

Because, as I explain, having a mobile timekeeping capability is a bit like having a spare tire in the trunk of your car. You may say to yourself, “If I didn’t need it last week, and I didn’t need it this week, why do I still carry that thing around?” The answer, of course, is because when you need it, you really need it. Mobile timekeeping is the same. You don’t use it until you need to. It stands to reason that not everyone needs to use it all the time. All of your lawyers aren’t generally, constantly, continually out of the office, are they?

What actually happens is something we can call “rotational participation”: that is, people take turns using mobile timekeeping depending on their circumstances. An attorney may be at their desk for weeks at a time and never use it. Then that individual is out of the office for a number of days and uses it continually (although only if it’s been provisioned for them to use, but we’ll get to that later).

The point for now is that instead of judging the success or failure of mobile timekeeping by how many people are on the system and how often they use it, firms—and particularly finance—should use another metric. They should look at it through a different lens.

It’s the Impact on Revenue that You Should Measure

Why does the take-up of mobile timekeeping look so disappointing? Typically, because IT put the system in place, they are its “owners”, and they are looking at how much the system cost, against how much it’s used.

Finance needs to step forward because a much better measure of success is the difference mobile timekeeping makes on revenue (that is to say, measure its cost against revenue). The impact is considerable. When firms actually compare the before and after effect, on every single occasion I find that a project, previously labelled as “unsuccessful”, is instantly transformed into a huge success. Moreover, it’s a success that is supported by objective metrics, quite rare in the technology world.

Specifically, the objective metric that is most relevant in this context is “new found time” or “NFT”. It’s “new found” because typically it would have been missed had it not been for the availability of mobile timekeeping. NFT generally comprises what I call the “crumbs” of time. This is incidental time, found in small increments that occur outside standard work hours. A typical NFT definition is time found before 8am, after 6pm, and on weekends, with a duration of 15 minutes or less. Here’s the thing. If it will take me 10 minutes to record 5 minutes of time—a 5 minute call, a brief email—I just don’t do it. If it takes me five seconds, I do.

Likewise, if I draft something in a cab on the way to the airport, I may make a mental note to record the time it took me when I get back to my desk. But I seldom actually do so. And 18 days later, when I’m completing my timesheet – well, by then it’s completely forgotten. It’s lost forever. Alternately, if I can tap it into my phone in the cab, I will. It’s done. It’s new found time that was never there before.

And do you know what? It really adds up. What’s more, it’s easy to calculate – firms just need to run a simple query on time logged based on their own definition of new found time. When they do, the results are eye-opening. I’ve known firms report a 1,000% ROI in year 1 when they do these sums. I’ve seen revenue gains of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One firm increased its yearly revenue by over seven figures, entirely from NFT originated through mobile timekeeping. I could hardly believe the impact myself. What’s even more shocking was that this ROI lay undiscovered and only surfaced when the success of mobile timekeeping was in doubt to the point of not renewing support and maintenance on the technology.

Falling into a Common Trap

Another mistake that firms typically make is they assume they know who’s going to want to use mobile timekeeping and who isn’t. I alluded to this earlier. Very often only a proportion of the attorney population gets the opportunity to use mobile timekeeping. This is very often done as part of a phased rollout. In one way, I see why people do this. They want proof of concept, but as I’ve explained, they then go looking for their proof in the wrong place.

However, another perspective on this is that the firm, in effect, has decided to prevent some individuals from having the means to make the firm more money. Which does seem rather perverse. Somebody somewhere is making assumptions about who will and will not want to use the technology. These are almost always bad decisions, because actually it’s now 2016. Virtually every single person working in a professional services environment has a smartphone. Every one of them uses consumer apps. Everyone—to a lesser or greater degree—has by now developed a “mobile application reflex”: the nearly overwhelming desire, at every other thought interval, to check your device. So why wouldn’t you make it work to your firm’s advantage? Give everyone the capability, and because it’s such a simple consumer-type app, they will all begin logging NFT right, left and center.

In fact many lawyers get so habituated to entering time on mobile devices that a fair number will use the mobile option even when they’re at their desk. This doesn’t count as NFT, of course. That’s why merely adding up the time logged on mobile devices would be a flawed measure of success. However, it does create good habits which will tend to drive more additional out-of office timekeeping on the mobile device.

The Business Benefits of Mobile Timekeeping

We can safely say that it’s smart to make mobile timekeeping available to all your lawyers. Also understand that not everyone will use the capability that they have, all of the time. That said, like a spare tire, everyone who has it will use it when the occasion to do so arises. Because that’s the impulse that we nearly all have these days. We have a device at hand and are addicted to engaging with it.

As for the business benefits, as soon as you start measuring it, the revenue impact of NFT is clear. There is generally a staggering ROI. At the same time, lawyers tend to find the system pleasing. It’s easy to use, takes less time to record time, and it eliminates month-end time reconstruction, a practice not in favor in today’s law firm client relationships.

Last, but really not least, there’s an advantage for clients. Mobile timekeeping enables contemporaneous recording of time, and that’s inevitably more precise than when it’s done by retrospective reconstruction. Clients get bills that they recognize as having razor-sharp accuracy. It keeps them happy. And that keeps them with your firm.

In conclusion, just remember that mobile timekeeping is not about how often it’s used, but about how many crumbs it captures and its contribution to contemporaneous timekeeping. And when you add up all those accurately captured and timely crumbs, you get a surprisingly big cake, one that both you and your clients can enjoy.


Tikit is one of the largest suppliers of technology solutions & services to legal & accountancy 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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