Time tracking in legal projects and operations – usage of proper tools and software

In our last blog post we looked at 5 most common issues with time management. Today we will spend few minutes looking at #1 issue – lack of proper usage of available technology and applications.

In our surveys more than 40% of lawyers responding declare that they use calculation spreadsheet (most commonly Microsoft excel)  as means of time tracking. 60% is split between usage of practice management software having build in time recording facility and specific time tracking software / apps (not necessarily developed specifically for legal operations).

Referring to 40% using calculation spreadsheets – what’s their situation? A lot depends how experienced user is usage and possibly automating things with calculation spreadsheets. My general experience and gut feeling is that lawyers are not experts in efficient usage of those tools (sincere apologies to lawyers experts in spreadsheet world!). So, on top of good and bad sides of the tool itself (of which below) we have also an issue of inexperienced users.

The pros of using spreadsheets for time recording are:

  • They are easy to start and build first reporting
  • They are flexible, users can adjust a lot
  • They are powerful if you know how to use them
  • Most people accept and recognizes them – no barrier in implementation
  • They can be easily integrated into other systems (billing etc)

The bad sides are:

  • Are not most convenient tool for recording time in mobile situations
  • Are prone to manual error in data input
  • Can get messy with numerous user changes and versions
  • Can contain user inducted errors in formulas and basic settings

The bottom line is that calculation spreadsheets are not the most convenient tool for time tracking, however they can be if designed and implemented by specialist and operated by users knowing how to do it. My advice for companies using calculation spreadsheets for time recording – consider switching for trial period to applications designed for that purpose or get a calculation spreadsheet specialist to fine tune your process.

Referring to 60% using applications and functionalities integrated into practice management system. Again, a lot depends on how you organize the process and use the tools, however by design those applications and systems are better for the time tracking job than calculation spreadsheets.

For the time tracking functionalities build into practice management software – there are few obvious good sides: integration into other functionalities (billing for example), possible link to calendars and tasks, easy access, mobile versions (not in all instances). However, there are also down sides reported – some integrated functionalities are not user friendly and do not allow customization required by users. Integrated systems are usually relatively expensive and time consuming to implement, hence fixing time recording issues with them might be troublesome.

For the applications dedicated to time tracking (either specifically designed for lawyers or general ones) the plus is that they are often user friendly, easily configurable, easy to use in mobile devices and reasonably priced. The issue with them is that we can have very influence on providers for keeping the tool “alive” and bugs fixed in longer period of time.

In the next post I will try to help with question how to address the process of time recording tools choice and implementation.

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