How law firms can put a smart data strategy in place

By Virginio Basile, Vice President, Professional Services, Tikit North America

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Read blog 1 – Why so many firms are missing the point about data.

Read blog 3 – What a smart data strategy looks like in practice.

 

How law firms can put a smart data strategy in place

In his previous blog Virginio Basile, Tikit’s Vice President, Professional Services, North America, explained why data matters so much to law firms. In this blog – the second of three – he describes how firms can put a strategy in place to deliver the kind of data that’s of real value.

You might remember in my last blog I explained all the valuable insights that data yields. I also emphasized that you only get great insights from great data. So this blog explains how firms can go about acquiring that high quality data. I’ll add that fortunately it’s the by-product of something you have to do anyway – which is timekeeping. Also know that with the right approaches and technologies in place, firms can acquire top quality data and save money in the process.

Velocity is all that matters

So how do we get great data? Well, velocity is all that really matters. The thing you aim for is zero velocity. When you have that, data quality takes care of itself.

What do I mean by zero velocity? Essentially, velocity is the number of days between an activity happening and the point that it’s recorded. Zero velocity means that attorneys record time as they go instead of at the end of the day, week or month.

Why is zero velocity so important? It’s about gaining really clean, tight, accurate data. After all, if attorneys record what they’ve done 5 to 10 days after they’ve done it, (let alone 30 days), how pin-sharp can anyone’s recollection be? Attorneys have to reconstruct their time based on pieced-together evidence. They use the emails they’ve sent and what it says on their calendar, but it’s more or less impossible to reconstruct whole busy days with complete accuracy. Typically a lot of activity is missed, so slow velocity leads to poor data. Conversely, when attorneys record what they do as soon as they do it, the data is complete, exact and reliable.

And as well as high quality data, by the way, zero velocity also gives you precise billable hours, because nothing gets forgotten. This is crucial in building a strong relationship with your clients because they see you being painstakingly accurate about their bills. It also creates valid data to estimate the cost of work rendered which is essential for maintaining profitability while contracting fixed fee arrangements.

A final very good reason for zero velocity is the overall improvement to a firm’s time capture processes. You may not have thought about it this way, but one firm I worked with went through the exercise of estimating the cost of having half its attorneys scrambling to enter time on the last day of the month.

They have 1,200 attorneys and they estimated that 50 per cent of them were taking 2 to 3 hours at the end of every month to reconstruct their time. Guess what that costs? The firm conservatively estimated that over 1,000 possible billable hours were squandered each month. I leave it to everyone to complete the formula based on your firm’s average billable rate. The amount is eye opening.

What processes enable zero velocity?

How do you get to zero velocity? Here’s a five point outline plan:

  1. Review all existing time entry policies and measures. Ask how effective these policies are and if they can be improved? Do they set the right tone and culture in respect of timekeeping? The implementation of a new system gives you a rare opportunity to revisit policies in this way, so take it. Review and improve missing-time awareness. Introduce metrics and measures. Also consider incentives and possible penalties for timekeepers that don’t meet an acceptable threshold.
  2. Communicate the reasons for change. Give attorneys the rationale for change and also treat them like consumers of a new product. Emphasize that they’re the ones who get to choose how they capture time. If the new approach is positioned as a personal tool designed to help them, rather than a system for the convenience of the firm, it will gain more traction, achieve earlier adoption and deliver stronger results.
  3. Orientate the users, don’t train them. Attorney’s will be using already-familiar devices to capture time from now on, so they don’t need formal ‘training’ (itself a term that sounds dry, time-consuming and dreary.) Instead provide no-longer-than 30-minute orientation sessions on specific methods of capture that fit their practice. Keep it crisp and to the point and attorneys will be more likely to engage. Continuously stress the importance of contemporaneous capture for the individual, but also as an objective of the firm.
  4. Roll-out the system in stages. Nominate high profile senior attorneys as project sponsors and run pilot implementations to gain feedback and acceptance. Then publicize the roll-outs’ success to motivate and enthuse everyone else.
  5. Above all – implement technology that provides ‘any device, anywhere, anytime’ capture. Once you’ve created the right environment and time-capture culture, it’s essential to introduce time capture software that is both extraordinarily easy to use and delivers a consistent interface across PCs, tablets and smart phones. If attorneys can capture time painlessly, at zero velocity, they will do so.

So that’s a very short guide to the theory of zero velocity and how it can be applied. In the next and last blog in this short series, I’ll provide a mini case study of zero velocity in action and show how it provides trustworthy data that empowers the firm to make great decisions.

 

If you would like to know more read Virginio’s other two blogs or join us for a webinar that ILTA have asked us to present on this topic: How to increase law firm revenue and profitability by improving time capture data on the June 6, 2016. Click here for more info and to register your attendance.