What can true AI do for timekeeping?
While most law firms have adopted some level of automation regarding fee earner timekeeping, these simple point-tool solutions solve only a narrow aspect of time entry. Intelligent time-capture technology using AI has evolved and is changing the way the game is played. But not all AI implementations are created equal; the latest crop of “We have it too!” software solutions often lack the key integrations that enable AI to truly transform timekeeping.
Challenges with simple timekeeping
It’s no secret that time recording is a chore most lawyers dread. Worse, when working on multiple matters, it is very easy to forget, overlook, or misrepresent time, effort, or activity. The phone call taken while walking to lunch, or the notes hastily penned in the taxi on the way to the meeting, can simply vanish in a fog of memory.
To make things more difficult, lawyer hours must be compliant with complex client billing requirements. These billing terms are hard to enforce when fee earners completing their time entries don’t have insight into them. So unbeknownst to the lawyer, that block-billing entry they just recorded is going to be rejected by the client for noncompliance to their rules. This rejection sparks either a review requiring the lawyer to painstakingly correct the entry, or a write-down — and subsequently a hit to realization for the matter and the firm. With too many of these rejections, client relationships will start to suffer.
Technology rescues timekeeping — or not
A multitude of software vendors say they have the solution. They shout loudly about AI and easy adoption to convince firms to implement their point tools. But while glorified timers and calculators are a step in the right direction, they don’t quite reach the desired destination.
Most simple timekeeping tools offer little built-in intelligence. A whizzy interface that still requires lawyers to manually enter billable hours might make the task prettier, but it doesn’t make it faster. Timers that track work effort are a step up from a stopwatch, but if they don’t intelligently and automatically allocate that time to matters, it’s still an onerous task for lawyers to make the connections. And products that claim to help enforce compliance with billing terms — but require purchasing a license to another software package to do so — are often clunky and cumbersome when it comes to managing client requirements.
What can real AI do for timekeeping?
True, AI-enabled timekeeping offers more than a pretty face. It has some serious brains under the hood. Here are a few things that an integrated timekeeping solution, infused with AI and with built-in compliance to billing terms, can do:
- Contemporaneously and accurately capture time in the background based on activity in email systems, calendars, productivity apps like Word and Excel, and even phone calls.
- Analyze that work effort and automatically categorize it to the right matter — and learn to do so more accurately over time.
- Use native, embedded AI to enforce client requirements immediately at the point of time entry, to alert a lawyer about activities that might not meet billing terms.
- Provide auto-search and matter categorization capabilities in a central repository, so lawyers can easily find and get up to speed on client terms.
- Use zero-entry capture technology so lawyers (and their assistants) spend far less time on data entry and more time on value-generating activities.
- Offer fee earners the option to validate and submit that time as it’s recorded (active capture), or to collect the time entries for batch review at a more convenient time (passive capture).
- Provide truly mobile capabilities that don’t require an Internet connection, enabling time to be captured and synced anywhere — in the office, on the go, or even offline.
Best of all, these virtues are their own reward. There’s no need for adolescent gamification or phony digital badges to incentivize highly educated and intelligent fee earners to keep track of their hours spent on matters. Lawyers are justifiably happy that they — or their assistants — don’t have to manually keep track of how hours are spent or whether they’re compliant to billing terms.
Democratizing time data
Intelligent time capture is also extremely adept in improving operational efficiencies and increasing realization rates. Firstly, AI provides the ability automatically categorize billing terms to ensure time collected is in compliance at the point of entry. This results in fewer bill rejections and write-downs — and higher realization rates.
Secondly, it democratizes time data across the firm. All groups —business development, pricing, project management (LPM) teams, to name a few — can access the time data to be used for their scoping and strategic purposes. Time data can inform many aspects of the client engagement cycle and help move the needle towards matter profitability.
Integrated data High-jumps the bar for law firms
Intelligent time capture that leverages real, integrated AI raises the bar for the modern day law firm in ways that simple point tools cannot: It frees up fee earners to spend quality time on matters versus timekeeping and ensures a highly accurate work-to-collect billing cycle compliant with billing requirements.
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