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Legal IT Professionals: Show Them the Money!

From legalitprofessionals.com

By Christy Burke

Make Your IT Department a Revenue Generator

If you saw a hundred-dollar bill lying on the sidewalk with no one around, would you pick it up?  Maybe/maybe not, depending on how much of a Boy or Girl Scout you are.  Now what if you knew that money was actually yours and you had dropped it yourself without realizing it – would you pick it up then?  Of course you would! 

Think of this – you didn’t have to work any extra hours for that hundred dollars – it is quite literally found money, rightfully yours, which you weren’t ever going to see again unless you went back and picked it up.  What if you were given the same opportunity to find money for your law firm by leveraging certain kinds of technology – wouldn’t you seek those tools out?  Of course you would.

Legal IT departments are generally thought of as cost centers or part of the overhead.  This is particularly unfortunate, given our current economic landscape where belts are being tightened across the board and the cost centers are generally more vulnerable than revenue-producers.  However, your IT department can become a revenue generator, by employing a number of different technology solutions which have recently become available.  These include applications that aid in keeping track of lost and leaked time, and also modernized ability to recover costs, not only from copies and faxes, but also from prints and scans. 

Capturing Billed Time
Despite the recent rumblings about alternative and flat fee billing, most law firms still require their attorneys to keep track of their hours.  And this is a very unpopular and much-reviled requirement – why?  Because for most lawyers it is a nightmare and they frequently lose out because they cannot remember all the tasks they did throughout their work days.

Often, timekeepers don’t enter their time just after they’ve had a phone conversation, meeting or after they’ve created or read a document or e-mail.  They finally get around to submitting their time at the end of the day, the week or the month, at which point they can scarcely recall what they did.  So much time is worked that is not actually billed, it’s staggering.  The client gets a favorable deal because they are not billed for all of their lawyer’s time, but law firms suffer because they leave money behind, and don’t ever retrieve it.

New software tools have arisen to directly combat this problem.  One category is time capture and entry software, which combines traditional timesheet entry technology with a new component that builds activity logs from servers and switches that help to jog the lawyer’s memory about where time was spent.

Todd Gerstein is CEO of Smart WebParts which makes a product called Smart Time (www.smart-webparts.com).  Launched at ILTA in 2009, Smart Time is a web-based system that searches across Exchange, the DMS, wireless communications, VoIP and legacy phone switches and other applications to serve up a summary of activities that each timekeeper engaged in at the firm. 

Gerstein explains, “Lawyers can cycle through the Smart Time log to teach the system more about what’s billable and to whom.  They can assign e-mail addresses and phone numbers to specific clients and matters, or they can exclude ones that are personal in nature, such as phone calls from their spouse.  Smart Time is intelligent and learns along the way, so it eventually needs a lot less care and feeding.”  At LegalTech NY, Smart Time introduced new classic time entry functionality so it can rival and replace systems that have been entrenched in the industry for a long time.

Gerstein says, “If Smart Time recoups one hour of leaked or lost billable time per week per timekeeper, you can see that the software not only pays for itself in short order, but it also begins to create revenue very quickly. It is the simplest way to create accurate and complete timesheets.”

Offline Timers
Many lawyers do legal work when they’re on planes or trains, or when they’re at a client’s office or in a hotel room.  Sometimes, they don’t think to track their time spent “offline” which leads to lost booked time.  In response to this dilemma, Clio (www.goclio.com), a web-based software-as-a-service product for solos and small firms, has created a time-oriented application called Clio Express (http://tinyurl.com/ycrv7xt).  Clio Express is an offline time tracking mechanism – a computer-based stopwatch that allows you to track time spent while you’re working on your laptop unplugged from the internet.  Both PC and Mac users can benefit from this application, which is a quick free download for Clio subscribers.

Cost Recovery
Historically, cost recovery has applied to copies and faxes which law firms bill back to their clients.  However, the face of cost recovery is changing, especially now that firms need to recover as many costs as they possibly can. 

Rob Mattern is President of Mattern & Associates (www.matternassoc.com), an unbiased support services consulting firm that conducts a cost recovery survey of law firms every other year.  Through research about cost recovery, Mattern’s team has learned that there has been a paradigm shift in the workflow at law firms.  Copies and faxes are receding and are being quickly replaced by prints and scans.  Considering that most law firms’ cost recovery is limited to recouping copy and fax costs, this is a major disconnect.

According to Mattern, “Law firms that are not recovering costs for prints and scans are clearly leaving money on the table.  If you calculate the costs, prints actually cost more than copies do, so if their volume is increasing and the firm is not being reimbursed for them, the firm is losing money, period.” 

Mattern advises its clients, most of which are Am Law 200 firms, to seriously consider recovering costs for prints and scans if they feel they can do so without impacting client relationships.  “Firms that persist in recovering only copy/fax costs, or who ignore cost recovery altogether are clearly giving up revenue that they could be collecting from their clients.”

Companies like Equitrac (www.equitrac.com) provide the tools to help firms maximize revenue recovery during this rise of print/scan and the decline of copy/fax. According to Chris Wyszkowski, VP of Sales Operations, “Today’s legal professionals are still copying and faxing at times, but they are doing digital reproductions from their computer desktops much more frequently.  As a cost recovery and print management provider, we are finding growing opportunities to capture the print activity and also the scans of documents.”

Equitrac has built other efficiencies into its process, such as integrating with leading document management systems like Worldox (www.worldox.com) so that documents can be scanned in, catalogued and profiled into the DMS quickly and easily.  Time savings plus recovered costs puts more money in the firm’s pocket for sure.

Leaving money behind unnecessarily is never a good idea, especially when there are so many tools available to prevent that from happening.  One of the main reasons for leaked time is the fact that law firms simply don’t know of all the technology out there that can assist them in building revenue for the firm. 

So pick up that money off the ground – if you look closely, you’ll start to notice dollar bills all over the place and you can stop losing out and start winning big.  Maybe you’ll become the hero at your law firm, or maybe they’ll name you employee of the month.  Or maybe you’ll simply feel more confident and secure when your IT department is questioned about how the firm is benefitting financially and productivity-wise from your decisions and purchases.  Collecting money that your firm is rightfully entitled to is a winning proposition – so win, don’t lose!