Bringing time up to date
Lawyers hate timekeeping. Not only do they have to break off from concentrating on legal matters to make notes of their activities during the day, at some point they’ll need to abandon their labours completely to fill in formal time records. This may happen at the end of the day, when lawyers are tired and struggling to remember which actions were undertaken, for whom, and for how long.
Some lawyers wait until the weekend, by which time those memories have blurred even further.
The rise of alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) promised to end this burden. Since lawyers would be working for a fixed price, the requirement to record each minute spent was gone. Alas, no. In order to compose accurate bid prices, it is essential that law firms understand how long their lawyers spend on work. If anything, AFAs have only added to the importance of accurate and detailed time records.
Worse, the job is becoming more onerous. Lawyers need to record more than time. They need to break activities down into phases and use the right task codes. They need to ensure their records are compliant with e-billing platforms. And there is a duty to keep records up to date and close to real-time. Waiting until Sunday night to report a few days’ worth of work is not acceptable.
The Jackson civil litigation reforms mean lawyers are often working to tight budgetary constraints. There may be restrictions on which lawyers can do what. And as costs near the ceiling, the legal team needs to be aware of the financial situation as it progresses.
Intapp’s time management software is used by 63 per cent of the world’s largest law firms
So what’s the solution? The ideal system would have four essential features. First, it would help with timekeeping, by automatically tracking activities undertaken by the lawyer. Second, it would help to translate that data into formal time records. Third, it would simplify compliance. All the right codes would be presented at the right moment and records would be compliant with e-billing platforms. And fourth, the system would be accessible from smartphones and tablets.
Lawyers need to be able to complete the job on an iPad on their commute home if that’s what suits them. Oh, and the mobile app needs to work even when there’s no signal – the work can’t halt when a train goes into a tunnel.
Intapp’s time management software, used by 63 per cent of the world’s largest law firms, meets all these needs.
It begins by passively recording legal activities as they occur. If the lawyer makes a phone call then Intapp registers duration, who it is made to and links the phone number to the relevant case. When the call ends, the lawyer is presented with a pre-filled form, complete with relevant codes, which can be approved with a single click or swipe.
This passive recording works for e-mails, document review and drafting, phone calls, and any other digitally detectable activity.
Should the lawyer wish to work for several hours uninterrupted by timekeeping obligations, it is no longer a problem. Intapp will have recorded every digital activity undertaken. The lawyer can edit and approve that activity knowing the information, including the duration, is accurate.
Lewis Silkin adopted Intapp in 2011 after realising the shortcomings of their old system. Jan Durant, Lewis Silkin’s director of IT and operations, says: “In talking to representatives of our firm’s five departments, I had anecdotal evidence that fee earners were starting early and working late, but their recorded hours were inconsistent with the time they were putting in. We knew that time was probably being lost through mental write-off.”
Today, Lewis Silkin’s lawyers use Intapp Time, alongside other time-entry software. Intapp Time runs in the background, passively recording use of phones, desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office and Outlook, and then presents this information to the lawyer in a daily report. The lawyer can edit and amend this report in conjunction with other information.
Ms Durant says: “All fee earners have their own preferred practice when it comes to tracking and recording their time. We try not to prescribe any particular timekeeping routines, but instead give them tools to simplify what is usually an onerous task. Intapp Time performs this role admirably. Our lawyers simply look down a list of recorded activity and tick the time that they want to be included against matters in our billing system.”
Another plus is pre-integration with e-billing systems, such as Thomson Reuters’ eBillingHub. Intapp vice-president Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Kaye Sycamore, explains: “The last thing law firms want is for their bills to be sent back. Our system checks everything is compliant with the right codes and format from the outset. Compliance is built into the system. This means you can be sure of getting everything right straightaway.”
Berwin Leighton Paisner director of technology Janet Day says the compliance features are vital. “You can build a model which says ‘Never bill for travel outside the UK’ if that is what you have agreed with clients,” she says. Intapp ensures this cannot be violated. “The client can be assured of an efficient and robust deal,” Ms Day adds.
Law firms report adoption of Intapp is pain-free. Osborne Clarke is currently piloting the product and has approved a roll-out across its offices. IT director Nathan Hayes says: “We have found it remarkably intuitive. There are no real barriers to using it. Transitioning is not significant.”
There are many dividends from using Intapp to record, classify and disclose time accurately, from improved fixed-fee bids to reduced administration costs. Lawyers will be big gainers too. As one commented: “You’ve given me my Sundays back.”
Further information on Intapp Time software is available at www.intapp.com/time