Timekeeping – Getting Ahead of Lawyers?
In a recent assignment, we helped a large law firm select its new timekeeping software. Like many firms formed through mergers, it had two standard timekeeping packages that had been gently aging since the merger in 2004. The firm wanted to standardize on one product for the usual reasons, but was also looking for a product that would reduce “lost” time, which some firms have estimated costs them several millions a year in billings. A market survey revealed that timekeeping software vendors were aware of this requirement as an emerging area that could help them differentiate their product from the rest.
We interviewed a large number of staff from across the firm, including practice managers, paralegals, secretaries and administrative and financial staff involved in billing. As we expected, both timekeepers and the secretaries who input time on their behalf had long lists of what they liked and disliked about the current products, along with intriguing suggestions for what would improve timekeeping in general. Based on this input and the business requirements established by the Finance group, we built an evaluation tool to assess the vendors’ responses to a Request for Information. The vendors making it past this barrier would be invited to demonstrate the product to representative users, including lawyers.
Software from four vendors made the cut, including updated versions of the products currently in use. Among viewers of the demonstrations, the Finance team were most impressed with the tool that automatically monitored phone and computer activity to capture “lost” time, and enthused about the potential to close the gap on lost billings. Interestingly, though, the lawyers were less impressed by the “advanced” product and more attracted to the two packages that addressed the irritants they had complained about and offered the features on their “nice to have” list. Both products had some functionality to address “time capture”, but had maintained a familiar user interface. One lawyer commented that some days her time was very easy to record, and that the fine detail presented by the lost time capture software would be time-consuming to review.
What struck us were the different perspectives of the business sponsor (Finance) and the actual timekeeper. It’s a cautionary tale –don’t get too far out ahead of your end-users!
Finance recognized that the “time capture” function in the software that the lawyers preferred would meet the need to capture “lost time” and happily selected it, since it was also the less expensive option.