Firms are failing to grasp the reality of agile working, but accessing more systems that contribute directly to productivity via the cloud is a clear direction of travel, says Tikit development director Mark Garnish.
In October 2016, the 25th anniversary of the PwC annual law firms survey found firms struggling with
an issue of “spare capacity.” They had confidently been on something of a hiring spree the year before (fee earner headcount in the top 50 was up by an average 7.6%). But all those extra brains on the books weren’t being turned into chargeable (and more importantly, profitable) new business. With Brexit simmering in the background for much of the year, supply in the legal market now outstripped demand. As the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently diagnosed for the economy as a whole, legal had a productivity problem.
The ONS refers to this situation as a “productivity puzzle” – but is it a puzzle for those doing legal business? After all, this was also the year – heeding the call of cost-cutting clients – that firms told people they could all work from home quite a bit more to save on expensive desk space. Depending on the new agile working policy in question, this might involve a regular half a week from home, or ad hoc days supported by hotdesking and unified mobile and video comms.
There are plenty of studies showing how greater autonomy and sense of a good work-life balance makes for happier, more engaged employees. So why aren’t these big business transformations also turning firms’ fortunes into profit?
Mark Garnish, development director at Tikit, says that the real problem “may be that CIOs don’t know what they really mean by enabling agile working.” Fee earners could be working perfectly diligently from home – just not on the tasks that’ll truly give the firm the productivity boost it badly needs.
“Office 365 is the elephant in this room,” says Garnish. “It’s certainly available for remote working by desktop, mobile or tablet, but the other legal software that fee earners need isn’t compliant with all of those platforms at one and the same time.
“When we say agile working, we’re envisaging a situation where a user can pick up any connected device, enter the appropriate security, and get straight on with pressing work. But in truth that’s still very difficult to do. Can I grab hold of my tablet, edit away in the document management system, check some contacts, then create a new matter and time record that fact? In most cases, the answer is still no.”
Forecasting in future
Tikit’s strategy, says Garnish, is geared toward facilitating a world of work – at home or on the move – where specific tasks are as seamlessly feasible across different devices as today’s consumer would expect (the iPhone, let’s reflect, turned 10 in January). In short, that means a world of work prepared to connect people to the cloud.
“People want to be able to work with office information in the same way they handle information in their personal lives – without having to jump through huge hoops, including for security,” continues Garnish. “Cloud’s common interface means a firm’s fee earners can truly take actions from any place they happen to be, and on any appropriate device they happen to have to hand at the time.”
For example, as of February 2017, Tikit’s new cloud-based version of its Carpe Diem Next Generation technology means firms have that level of agility – not only to record their billable time on
the move, but also to check back on past activity for billable time that may have been missed, as well as measure and report back on time-recording productivity and track actual billing performance and resulting cashflow.
“We’ve also added expense management within the same interface,” says Garnish. That’s another recurring basic task that it makes more sense to do at the time, not wait to be back in the office.
“Employees can capture their train fare or other expense at the point of purchase, charge it to the client as appropriate there and then, or just claim back the cash on personal expenses. That’s not new in itself – but the real winner for fee earners should be the ability to use the same interface they’re already comfortable using elsewhere.”
Another example of something legal professionals could profitably be doing anywhere, anytime, is taking time to understand the mix of factors surrounding chances of winning –and profitably resourcing – future work. “That helps
them to calculate the amount of time new jobs are likely to take, and therefore their cost and preferred price,” says Garnish.
“Regardless of individual views on whether or not the hourly rate is dead, lawyers will all still need to work in line with the basic unit of how long a particular job is likely to take them to complete,” he says.
“But many firms are really bad at supporting fee earners to think about the work they’ll be doing in the future. One common problem for those lawyers is the need to move over to another third party product. If they’re finally familiar with a time-recording interface, it seems ludicrous that they’d then need to move to a separate program for some timely forecasting activity because the two systems don’t marry up.”
It’s another challenge that has been addressed in the newest version of Carpe Diem (out this summer), he says. The system is configurable to assume that any minutes recorded ahead of time are actually forecast time (which is consumed as it’s reached) – while at a management level, the module can be used to allocate and reallocate resources across international offices as higher- priority work comes in, as well as to challenge set forecasts and analyse individuals’ forecasting capability over time.
“Of course, it’s hard enough to persuade lawyers to properly record time that’s past,” laughs Garnish. “I’d imagine there’ll be trials of various carrot-and-stick arrangements to get traction, but if improved forecasting lies in a firm’s future, it certainly makes sense for it to work using a common interface.”
Finally, all users of both the Tikit Partner for Windows (P4W) practice and case management system and Carpe Diem can now benefit from a “more general enquiry facility” for timely checking on case progress, key financials and contacts. “Combined, the system effectively becomes a fully cloud-based mobile portal,” says Garnish.
So it’s a clear cloud-first strategy at Tikit as the case for change in that direction stacks up. In 2016, for example, the business also became the first global partner for cloud-based document and email management provider NetDocuments.
Cloud is a common driver for both companies’ customers, they said.
And Tikit’s Template Management System will also sit in the cloud to make it easier for teams to adjust document styles.
“Template management at a law firm is a much bigger job than selecting from standard templates,” explains Garnish. “There is variation by jurisdiction, office, language and even specific department or team. As a highly simplified example, a firm with five branch offices that also works in five languages may need to create 25 versions of a single letter.”
That’s something else that should be doable on either desktop or tablet as location demands – but until now, it has always needed a piece of code to be kept on the local machine, he says.
“There’s not much point in happily having all your documents stored in the cloud if the templates creating those documents are still stuck on-premises.”
Off and on – options open
However, it can’t be denied that Briefing’s Legal IT landscapes 2017 report found a legal market still defiantly divided on the question of cloud- readiness. Around a quarter of respondents, for example, predicted their firms would move client relationship management to the cloud inside of two years (and a tenth said they were there already). But almost two-fifths considered that would simply never happen – rising to a quarter and a third for case management and practice management respectively. In general, sentiment peaked at cloud adoption for such systems within a five-year window.
Garnish is certainly under no illusion that cloud will be the norm in legal any quicker than that. “That’s precisely why absolutely everything we do is available either in the cloud or on-premises,” he says. “The greater flexibility of cloud access is there for the firms that are ready and want it – it’s as simple as that.”
“There’s a growing groundswell of firms that are converted and ready, though – and you need to remember that you can’t retrofit cloud. You have to start from scratch. That’s why we’ve invested millions in the research and development to make it possible today.”