Has coronavirus cracked the time recording code?
Insight Legal article.
The spotlight on time recording: present
Time recording software has risen in prominence as an operational tool for lawyers and law firm managers since the COVID-19 outbreak. There are two main reasons for time recording’s manoeuvre into the spotlight; these being the financial difficulties faced by the sector as a whole, and practices’ dispersed workforces dictated by social distancing restrictions. In this article, we will demonstrate how time recording software tackles these problems.
The spotlight on time recording: past
Before all of that, casting our minds back to the pre-pandemic era, time recording has always been an essential component of legal practice management and accounting software.
Maximising chargeable activity by time recording at every stage of matter progress, assisted by automation and workflow functionality, gives the ability to earn more revenue which impacts profit margins in a positive way. All businesses, law firms included, need to make a profit otherwise their company will fold. Law firms closing their doors permanently is not a new phenomenon. It has been a misfortune of the profession throughout the ages.
Stating the obvious somewhat, a parallel outcome of maximising chargeable activity is minimising non-chargeable activity – an affliction suffered by practices without intuitive and automatic time recording features. These improvements in productivity and reductions in wastage lead to improvements in revenue generation too.
From the viewpoint of managerial roles, the advantages of time recording are manifested in terms of better supervision and more insightful financial management.
To clarify regarding supervision, comprehensive-time recording data on fee earning allows senior management teams to supervise departmentally or organisation-wide by understanding best-performing individuals, ascertaining solicitors with the heaviest caseload, and allocating or reallocating matters both to accommodate perfect fit and equal distribution. In other words, supervisors can assign cases to solicitors who excel in particular specialisms and ensure no one is being overworked whilst others have little to do.
A knock-on effect of better supervision, aside from a smoother-running business, is talent retention. Happier employees with a manageable, enjoyable volume and workload become loyal and devoted thereby staying and serving for longer. Workforce future-proofing is good news for any HR team.
To clarify regarding financial management processes, time recording information provides in-depth knowledge of performance and affords accurate forecasting into the future based on what has gone before.
Strengthened planning via this time recording statistical treasure troves benefits business development in many ways, including:
- By drawing upon performance data to seek new, similar instruction or cross-selling opportunities;
- Supporting the delivery of cases on a fixed fee basis by showing typical income received and legal costs associated with specific matter types in order to calculate fees for identical jobs with some predictability;
- Reinforcing client care standards because invoices can be backed up by time recordings clearly setting out the time and cost of work completed in any designated period to meet (and exceed) expectations.
The net product is, again, a law firm with a healthier bottom line.
As we have observed since March this year when COVID-19 lockdown was introduced, the legal industry has struggled with financial instability in an extreme way these past few months. This precarious situation has resulted from all manner of reasons: lighter caseloads with matters either being stalled or not begun in the first place; reduced staffing as furlough, shielding and illness take their toll; and limited cash flow as less work equals less income, and wary clients potentially delay payment.
Another related observation is the abrupt switch to home working which came into existence instantly on 23rd March, and the absolute need to connect everything and everyone together from geographically dispersed locations.
Reflecting on our opening statement, time recording applications suddenly assumed even greater importance in the marketplace from March onwards by empowering law firms to overcome these issues in all their forms.
The aforementioned fortified supervision and financial management capabilities play a key role in stabilising financial positioning. As detailed above, this happens as every billable minute of time can be tracked and unbillable time avoided wherever possible, new and repeat instructions gained from prospects and clients respectively, output optimised from present colleagues with absent colleagues’ cases reassigned, and bills sent in a precise, timely manner.
In addition, where dissipated labour pools are concerned, time recording systems are a mechanism to operate remotely and coherently, supporting working-from-home arrangements with uninterrupted documenting of time faculties and cloud access facilities.
As a result, time recordings can continue to be made and monitored regardless of the user’s or manager’s whereabouts. For users, a straightforward system login is all that is needed to sustain normal operations by progressing matters with accompanying time unit recordings per activity whether situated in the office or home. For managers, the self-same oversight is granted irrespective of place of work also.
Aesthetics and usability
The question now posed is: What does quality time recording software look like?
In our opinion, the primary features are:
- Customisable settings to tailor time recording to unique requirements such as minutes per unit, charge rates, activity codes, and options for manual or automatic recordings;
- Time recorder for fee earners to record time as they work with the ability to switch between tasks, and play and pause a timer;
- Timesheets to log time for self and on behalf of others post activity for multiple tasks in succession;
- Mobile app, synchronised with the desktop version, for viewing and updating existing timesheets, and adding new time entries via an in-built stopwatch;
- Time recording functionality across all core applications such as legal forms, document templates and emails;
- Integrated billing, for interim and end-of-matter invoicing with the capacity to calculate fees based on time recorded, write off time and calculate fee earner allocations
- Real-time reporting dashboard whose structured data provides actionable intelligence to senior personnel.
The spotlight on time recording: future
If time recording procedures were not deemed a high priority for law firms previously, coronavirus learnings have altered thinking in a major way. With the value of time recording systems more evident, the status has been elevated accordingly.
It’s finally been acknowledged that a range of powerful time recording functions helps law firms to succeed. In the current climate with COVID-19 still in our midst, this bold claim is sufficient to warrant a review of one’s current time recording platform to ensure it is suitable for the modern and evolving way of working, even when the going gets tough.