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Clients today are rightfully concerned about escalating legal bills. They are entitled to — and insist upon — a detailed accounting of the time spent on their matters. Yet for decades lawyers have tracked time in largely the same manner: filling out paper time sheets as they go along — or after the fact. Even as our 26-attorney firm computerized numerous office and work functions, we still kept tracking time the old-fashioned way. There were a few exceptions, who tried keying time directly into the accounting system, but even for them the same problems remained: tardy time sheets, overlooked time, and omissions of the details clients demand and deserve. In short, we were losing time — our most valuable resource. As managing partner, I grew concerned that time was being missed and that too much energy was being consumed by the creation, collection and submission of paper time sheets. The sheets meant more work and lost time in data entry, and the paper itself could be lost or the handwriting illegible, leading to even more work. Staff time was dedicated to rounding up the tardy time sheets. Changing attorney behavior is not easy — most lawyers are relatively set in their ways. Instituting rules and guidelines for keeping “better” records helped, but it was obvious that just as technology had helped on so many other fronts, there must surely be a better way of capturing time. THREE CRITERIA Our firm decided that any electronic solution must meet three criteria. First, the new technology must be user-friendly, without a steep learning curve. Second, breadth was extremely important. The system needed to cover many types of activity that comprise a lawyer’s busy day. And third, the system had to integrate with our existing software, both on the desks of our attorneys and in our billing and accounting system. The mission was accomplished in July, when I was introduced to Boston-based eGlean Inc. and its automated time capture software, Legal55, which was still in a testing phase. After expressing our needs and concerns, the firm agreed to be a beta customer, and Legal55 was installed at our office. The system had two elements: Software was installed on desktops that silently tracked time until activities were completed, and a server provided by eGlean was placed in the computer room to coordinate the transfer of information between the phone system, accounting program, and the software on attorneys’ desktops. This combination minimized conflicts between the timekeeping system and the other network programs. We made it clear up front that we did not want a timekeeping system that got in the way of daily work. As part of the beta process over the next two months, eGlean met with different staff members to get a thorough understanding of how daily business is conducted. The company then adjusted the system to accommodate the variegated work styles of our attorneys and paralegals. At the end of the beta period, the results were deemed a success by all. The software requires almost no preparation by the individual. Time is captured without intervention and presented to the attorney as activities are completed, at the end of the day or at whatever time is convenient. The time captured related to our computer applications, such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, that commonly track phone calls and meetings. Even when the attorney leaves the computer and returns, the software asks about the time they were away, creating a complete record of the individual’s day and helping attribute that time to appropriate clients and matters. BIG BROTHER? One of the concerns expressed when the firm started the project was that an automatic time tracker could become our “big brother.” But this was not the case because attorneys had control over whether to capture everything, only certain items, or even nothing at all. Those who wanted to use a paper time sheet could continue to do so — with the benefit of the information gathered but not committed by the automatic time tracker. The software is intuitive, and most people in the firm needed little time getting up to speed. That simplicity — combined with excellent, concise training sessions — led to fast software deployment. Legal55 is now on the desk of almost all our attorneys. The firm saw benefits almost immediately. As more attorneys submitted their time electronically, hours spent retyping and fixing handwriting-related errors were reduced. Because time sheets were submitted the same day or shortly after, administrative staff spent less time tracking down late time sheets. And for the first time, we gained early visibility on the hours that could be billed for the month. The amount of time we had been missing as a firm and subsequently not billing has been an eye-opener. Many attorneys found that the automatic program prompted them for time that would otherwise have been forgotten. More importantly, the descriptive information provided by the system increased the accuracy of the time sheets, reducing our slippage. Throughout the firm, billable time increased measurably for those who had the software. Even during the beta period and rollout, the system seemed to pay for itself within the first 10 weeks of use. From a managing partner’s perspective, initiatives are best seen and not heard. When a program within the firm comes to my attention, it is usually because something is going wrong. Positive impacts show up on time reports and monthly statements. Legal55 met both standards and exceeded our expectations. Lee Unterman is managing partner of Kurzman, Karelsen & Frank.

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