What a smart data strategy looks like in practice
Virginio Basile, Tikit’s Vice President, Professional Services, North America, discusses the implementation of a successful data strategy drawing on the experience of a recent timekeeping software deployment to illustrate how firms can acquire high quality data in practice.
Start with policies
As I said last time, a deployment ideally needs to begin with a review of the firm’s approach to timekeeping, and that’s going to be enshrined in its policies and timekeeping protocols. So ask what your policies and protocols require? If they’re not telling attorneys that timekeeping matters, and they’re not driving behaviours towards diligent and prompt timekeeping, then they need to be changed. Also, does your firm track individual performance and have measures in place that drive adherence to your policies?
The firm I recently worked with conducted a policy review and revision exercise as the first step in its new timekeeping implementation. New policies required attorneys (and their assistants) to make three important changes. First, to be more granular with time recording by recording smaller units of time. Second, to diligently record all time, in particular ‘new found time’ – which is typically time worked outside the boundaries of a nine-to-five, five-day week. Thirdly, and this is the most important of all: to use the tools being made available to record time contemporaneously.
Its new policies also set explicit targets to reduce velocity (the time taken between work being performed and it being recorded). Finally the firm put in place a system of penalties and bonuses to keep people focused on staying on track.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Any time you want behaviours to change, it’s really important to tell people why they should be making the effort. So the firm we’re talking about began the transition by making the business case as to why change was necessary.
It communicated with all its staff about the cost of getting timekeeping wrong and emphasized the huge advantages of getting it right. In particular the firm communicated the cost of half its attorneys, and their assistants, spending several unbillable hours on reconstructing time on a monthly basis. As well communications highlighted the month-end scramble to complete timesheets and the pressure that put on systems and people to illustrate why things needed to change.
Then a second wave of communication said: “Don’t worry, because actually this will make your life much better.” In particular, attorneys were treated like consumers and given a choice over devices and as to how they could implement the new contemporaneous time capture regime. Plus communications stressed how a fluid and shared time capture process (shared with assistants) was going to take the onerousness out of traditional timekeeping and make life easier for everyone.
Orientation not ‘training’
It’s hugely important that firms provide orientation on the new tools in ways that work for users. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, with everyone trooping into a space where they’re sat down and ‘trained at’ for an hour, doesn’t work well for attorneys or firms. So for the deployment in question we took the time to talk to people first and understand their varying needs. We then created a menu of different, targeted courses and a range of non-traditional and flexible delivery models, such as online, ‘lunch and learn’ sessions and walk-arounds, where the trainer goes to the attorney, not the other way round. Each individual got to choose the type of learning that worked best for them and that fitted most comfortably into their schedule.
A phased rollout
In this deployment we opted for an office by office rollout so that a lot of attention could be paid to new users as they adapted to the new system. The idea was to nip any teething troubles in the bud before users start to struggle, get frustrated and become dismissive. Also a phased rollout allowed a positive buzz to be generated. It made people impatient to get started on the new system.
Results from the implementation
As result of this careful implementation, the firm in question transformed its velocity figure – the number of days between an activity and recording it – from an average of nearly 7 days to an improved average of slightly under 4 days. This metric indicates that the quality of time captured and therefore of data has improved markedly. The firm also calculated the value of attorneys not spending valuable time at month end finalizing entries. Very importantly, the improvement in velocity translated into a rise in net billable hours.
Moreover, the firm has opened up a pipeline to consistent, accurate and reliable data that now informs key business decisions. It specifically informs how the firm bids for new work on a fixed-fee basis. Remember that winning business can actually be a disaster if it turns out the firm doesn’t then make money from the work. For our client this is no longer a concern because they now have the high quality data that underpins success.
In another instance, we specifically promoted mobile time capture, anytime, anywhere. Our client subsequently logged 520 hours of new found time in the first year, mainly entries generated in non-business hours, in increments of less than 30 minutes. This is exactly the type of activity that is typically missed by attorneys. Using an average of $400 per hour, this represented an increase of over $200,000K in revenue. Also interestingly, these figures were generated by only 20 per cent of the timekeepers of a 750-attorney firm.
By Virginio Basile, Vice President, Professional Services, Tikit North America
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