The old adage “time is money” is especially true for law firms and other professional services organizations. Although the need for timekeeping is a given, the way in which your timekeepers keep time can vary drastically depending on your timekeeping policy, your attorneys’ habits, the firm’s culture, and of course, your timekeeping solution.
How much of an impact does the timekeeping solution that you choose have on your firm? You might be surprised to know that the solution that you choose can have a direct and measurable effect on your firm’s financial results, relationships with clients, and competitiveness. Therefore, choosing a timekeeping solution is as much a tactical decision, as it is strategic. In this post, we’ll discuss how to evaluate potential solutions in order to identify the best solution for you.
#1: Distinguish Between TimeKeeping Approaches
Prior to exploring potential timekeeping solutions, it is important to understand the various approaches to timekeeping that might appear in the technology solutions that you come across. Before you get to know the timekeeping alternatives on the market, first establish an understanding of the different methods of timekeeping that exist today:
- Reconstructive time entry, “Leave it for later” or “the procrastinator approach”: Reconstructive time entry occurs when timekeepers review past activities, schedules, call logs, etc. to go back in memory to estimate how time was spent. This approach is not only far from accurate, but also a dangerous one, as clients expect time to be entered daily.
- Passive Time Capture or the “Big Brother” Approach: Multiple pieces of software that run in the background and log activity in order to suggest activities that might be related to time spent on a client/matter. Passive time capture is also a form of reconstructive time entry. These systems might sound great, however lots of configuration is involved and finally entries later need to be properly coded, in most cases causing double work.
- Contemporaneous time entry, the “record it as you do it” approach: This is the most accurate method of time entry and this is actually what is expected by clients. Attorneys keep time in small increments, entering time as tasks are completed. Attorneys that enter time contemporaneously bill more hours, more accurately, and experience less rejections from the ones who don’t.
Timekeeping software is based on one of the above approaches to time entry, therefore it is important to understand the differences when exploring potential vendors.
#2: Middle-Ware vs. Real Time Integration
Middle-ware (or middle-man) solutions had their moment in past decades when accounting systems were not robust enough to handle month-end, billing processing, and time entry at the same time. Those days are long gone. However, law firms continue to use middle-ware time entry software despite all issues and drawbacks. These middle-ware time entry solutions sit in between the user and the accounting systems and are responsible for the following negative consequences:
- There is NO real time integration with your accounting system
- Missing all rules and validations already set up in the accounting system of record
- All your clients, matters, timecards, codes, rules, validations and other data “must” be duplicated down to the middle-ware software
- Need to put in place additional process to download/upload data in order to keep your accounting system in sync with the middle-ware time entry software
- Additional error checking and fixing is required to ensure the consistency and integrity between the two systems
- Long cycles for updates and upgrades due to the use of legacy technology
Real time integration is the holy grail in time entry features and should be what is expected from modern technology. With real time integration, there is no need for uploads/downloads and error fixing because time is entered directly into the billing/accounting system. When a new client, matter, or codes are added, they should be sourced immediately for time entry.
#3: Legacy Enterprise Software vs True SaaS
Let me be as direct as possible, you are choosing between your Grandfather’s time entry system and a solution that is built based on the needs of attorneys today. Legacy systems are not built to address the modern needs of today’s firms, such as mobility, security and anytime, anywhere access. Furthermore, they are difficult to manage, with endless and costly upgrade cycles. A true SaaS solution, on the other hand, offers easy implementation, anytime access from several different devices, always up-to-date software and security protocols and more. Consider what your firm needs to compete at the highest level in today’s market and ask yourself if a legacy enterprise solution has what it takes.
It is important not to confuse True SaaS with an Enterprise Software marketed as a subscription-based. An enterprise timekeeping solution where you need to buy servers, software, and do all the deployment and maintenance while paying the same amount every year is not SaaS - it's just wrong.
#4: Natively Embedded vs Best of Breed
When it comes to your mobile app for time entry, are you using an app that was built as an aside to your time & billing system or for the purpose of time entry? This distinction matters. Best of Breed solutions that were built based on the needs of the modern law firm, typically offer more simplicity, better functionality, greater ability to scale and an overall superior user experience.
#5: Assess the Fit in Achieving Your Timekeeping Goals
What are your timekeeping goals? Do you need to make contemporaneous timekeeping more achievable for your timekeepers? Do you wish to increase compliance with your firm’s time entry policy? Are you looking to increase the accuracy of your invoices so that you aren’t leaking time? Your goals matter when it comes to evaluating a timekeeping solution, as not all timekeeping solutions on the market are built the same. The ability for a solution to engage directly with your users and help with compliance, should be critical to any solution.
In fact, you will find considerable differences exist between the existing solutions on the market in terms of how they will allow you to achieve your timekeeping goals. The approach to timekeeping will also vary depending on how the solution was built. While specialized solutions were built for the purpose of timekeeping (ex. iTimeKeep), middleware (ex. Intapp, Carpe Diem) were built as accounting systems and extended into timekeeping. It’s essentially the difference between “best of breed” and “one size fits all.”
What factors go into your decision making process when selecting a timekeeping vendor? Share your thoughts with us below.