Looking to Kickstart P3 Initiatives – Timekeeping to the Rescue?

Every law firm relies on certain core processes and essential systems. Timekeeping/time recording is no exception and is by far one of the most fundamental yet under leveraged processes and systems within any firm, large or small. This article is about process improvement, and to a more fundamental degree, process awareness: getting the most out of what you are already doing running a professional services business and better utilizing the data you already have in your possession.

Let’s connect the dots to law firm P3 initiatives. For the past four years, the Legal Marketing Association’s (LMA) Client Value Shared Interest Group has been hosting “P3 – The Practice Innovation Conference”. P3 offers education and discussion focused on the business aspects of developing a successful law practice, including the disciplines of project management, pricing, and process improvement. P3 is much more than just a conference, it’s about bringing a disciplined data-driven methodology to the business of law.

The law firm’s push to fine-tune existing processes and bring in new technology and business-focused strategies is nothing new. The drive to cast a wider net—bringing together law firm pricing and LPM experts, practice managers, business development and marketing professionals, those in corporate law departments, corporate procurement professionals, and product and service providers—might be.

Past P3 Conference agendas have focused on leveraging data‐driven decision making as part of pricing and profitability; harnessing data in the pursuit of operational excellence; and offering sessions focused on driving user adoption with project management, pricing, and process improvement initiatives. This is where a process like timekeeping and its underlying data set can fit in and contribute.

Let’s take a closer look. How does a core process like timekeeping (everybody’s doing it already) enhance resource management and process improvement efforts, contribute to firm‐wide KM initiatives, and facilitate pricing and budgeting?

Firms are used to entering their time through timekeeping technology, something they do every day, so it makes perfect sense to capture other data using the same interface and moment‐in-time options. An example is entering data for future work, the time they expect to work in the weeks / months to come, aka “forecasts”. If firms can anticipate the work that timekeepers will be doing in the future, they can add these estimates to their system, allowing the conversion of forecasts to actual time worked. This provides not only insight into the accuracy of estimates (by comparing against actual billable time recorded), but also helps in predicting workloads for individuals, teams, and offices. Note the tie‐ins to pricing, budgeting and project, process, and resource management. Firms are only able to accurately price work if they know who is available when, and at what price for those resources. Integrating timekeeping into existing P3 initiatives in this manner achieves this. Setting up timekeeping technology to capture time contemporaneously, across a broad array of devices and inputs, as well as monitoring said efficiency, not only helps firm CFOs and budgeters but also addresses the ACC Value Challenge.

Effective time recording is all about velocity: eliminating the lags in time between doing the work and recording it; the lag between recording it and submitting it internally; and, the lag before billing the client. The more that firms can get rid of these lags, the faster they will get paid in full. Giving firm clients insight into your transparent recording/billing process with velocity metrics that prove how efficient your processes are evokes trust and the firm’s commitment to client success.

Chief knowledge officers can also make use of timekeeping data by analyzing entries and narratives to better understand the “what” of their available resources and provide connectivity and collaboration initiatives between various practice groups and operational units via timekeeping data.

In summary, instead of solely trying to come up with new technologies to solve existing problems, law firms can leverage existing systems they use every day, like their timekeeping application and underlying process, to address current and future challenges. While timekeeping is not a new technology, nor is it considered one of the up and coming innovations like artificial intelligence, machine learning, or expert systems, it is a known quantity for every firm. The sheer amount of data and information that exists around timekeeping should be exploited to connect data points from other systems and provide valuable insights for those in charge of law firm, pricing, KM, process improvement, and the like.

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