Almost All Mobile Device Users are Missing Out On a Valuable Feature
By Justin B. Hectus
The effective use of mobile applications beyond e-mail remains untapped by most users. Microsoft has recently been running a television commercial that follows a well-dressed man as he leaves his home and family for a business trip. If you’re like me and you’ve lived this scenario a few hundred times, your attention is immediately drawn to the conspicuous absence of a bulky laptop bag. After a hassle-free flight, he breezes into a client meeting and casually pulls out his mobile device, from which he effortlessly runs his PowerPoint presentation. The ease with which this character is operating is a bit exaggerated, but the message is clear: These little computers in our pockets can do a lot more than just e-mail.
Despite the validity of this pitch, very few firms, even in the legal market — the industry that pioneered the enterprise use of mobile devices — have deployed additional applications to their mobile users. According to ILTA’s 2006 Technology Survey — Aggregate Answers from “Large” and “Very Large” firms, aggregate usage of PDAs at large firms is pegged at 74%, yet only 5% of those firms offer any of their users a mobile version of one of any lawyer’s core applications, time entry.
If your firm is trending like most, your IT operating budget increased in 2006 for the first time in several years. (According to ILTA’s 2006 Technology Survey, 57% of firms said their operating budget increased in 2006 over 2005; in the past three years, 50% or more responded that the budget stayed the same or decreased.) In my opinion, deploying a mobile time entry application is a great way to spend a small slice of that additional pie. It’s a quick win that will deliver an immediate and calculable ROI, and also help justify an additional budget increase in 2008. In addition to the obvious ROI angle, there are less obvious — and potentially even greater — benefits from this initiative.
Although most lawyers view time entry as a burden, it is also acknowledged as an important opportunity to communicate, and build credibility, with the client. Time entries are the most consistent (and sometimes most frequent) form of detailed update to clients, and they can help track progress on a case, memorialize communications between parties and itemize value.
Recognizing the importance of this function, vendors have serviced the legal industry with “best-of-breed” distributed time entry systems at the desktop. Clunky forms-based data entry applications are a thing of the past, and now lawyers have Web-based rapidtime capture, timers, desktop extensions and portal and e-mail plugins — all of which are promoting the idea of contemporaneous time capture.
Also promoting contemporaneous communication and interaction with enterprise systems is the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices. This year, U.S. businesses will spend more on wireless voice services than hardline telecom (January 2006 In-Stat Analysis). According to Texas-based iGillott Research, approximately 57 million workers in the U.S. can currently be classified as “mobile” (i.e., employees who routinely conduct at least 20% of their core functions remotely), and that number is growing by almost three million per year. These devices have saturated the business world to the point where professionals are expected to be accessible to their clients at all times. According to the 2006 Association of Corporate Counsel “Managing Outside Counsel Survey,” 55% of survey respondents said that they terminated relationships with at least one of their law firms in 2005, with 66% firing firms for “lack of responsiveness.”
Whether it’s fear of getting fired for not being responsive, a fullblown “crackberry” addiction, or a genuine sense of obligation to clients and peers, you can bet that the vast majority of attorneys are tethered to their mobile devices. So, here we are with our revenue drivers connected to time entry and also connected to mobile devices, and yet 95% of us are not bringing the two together.
BUSINESS CASE FOR COMBINING TIME AND MOBILITY
Good lawyers should be unabashed about the value of their services, especially when delivered in response to a crisis that occurs at a time that would traditionally be considered after hours. Quality legal services come with a premium, and the fact that clients require and deserve billing transparency does not mean that they object to paying appropriate fees for good service. One word of caution, though: Firms and vendors looking at this as an opportunity to incrementally increase revenue by sticking clients with a .25-hour entry every time lawyers make a call or send an e-mail from their mobile devices are making a big mistake. Activity isn’t always productivity, and discretion is still a critical component of time entry.
So how does mobile time capture and promote accuracy, and how does that improve credibility? Simply put, billing errors create unnecessary friction, and memorializing your activity at the moment it occurs promotes accuracy, which in turn promotes credibility.
Glenn Zakaib, a litigation partner at the 200-lawyer Toronto firm of Cassels Brock, agrees that having the ability to capture time in the field is key, “particularly for clients that require taskbased time entries. I sometimes have to jot down a number of entries in a day while I’m on the road,” he says, “and having the ability to accurately account for my time using TimeKM on my Blackberry is invaluable.”
Another important point in reviewing the mobile time capture business case is the evaluation of success criteria and metrics, which are much different from those used in the desktop time capture model. The mobile time capture value proposition can include one or more of the following:
- The capture of only one-to-five entries per month that would otherwise have been forgotten provides for a significant ROI. This minimal level of activity, gauged over an adequate business cycle (normally six months to a year) should be considered a success.
- “Always available for capture” is a value in itself, since mobile activity is not predictable. Some months attorneys require it, and during other months they don’t, but what is important is that it is available when needed.
- A personal capture mechanism on a mobile device is compelling for attorneys to the point where it may incite more participation at the desktop. Glen Piper, an associate at Keesal, Young & Logan who started entering time at the desktop after using TimeKM on his GoodLink commented: “I didn’t need any training, and it encouraged me to take another look at time entry on my desktop PC.”
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness, not promote any one vendor or application. The following is a cursory overview of five vendors that are worthy of consideration for an IT Director looking to explore this opportunity further.
Maryland-based AirTime Manager has been around for a little over three years, and it’s business model is focused expressly on the offering of mobile time entry applications. Its suite of applications offers two efficient capture methods (forms and reminders after phone calls or e-mails), runs on multiple device platforms and entries can be passed on to all of the major billing systems through a hosted landing zone. AirTime Manager also takes an interesting slant on pricing, charging clients on a per-transaction basis.
TimeKM also works with virtually every device on the market but, unlike AirTime Manager, it is an extension of a robust desktop time entry system rather than a third-party add-on application. PensEra KnowledgeTechnologies, the company that designed TimeKM, has been in the time entry space since 1998, and it has an intimate understanding of what lawyers need at the desktop and on the go. TimeKM Mobile offers three methods for time capture: Jot-it-Down time entry, Tag-and-Send e-mails or phone calls, and Remind Me, which offers an opportunity to create a time entry after specific activities. For smaller firms, TimeKM also offers a hosted service through an OEM agreement with Juris.
The following two major players in this space have two things in common. They both work with Blackberry only, and they both benefit from connecting to time entry systems with a significant installation base. Meta Message has developed a full suite of professional mobile applications, and its stopwatch-like forms-based time entry piece connects to Aderant, Carpe Diem and other desktop time entry applications. The integration with multiple time capture and accounting systems may present a challenge for Meta Message in the long-term as adjustments to multiple integration structures may prove difficult and costly. The other Blackberry-only time capture system, DTE In Hand, is the most feature-rich of these four options, and models the functionality of DTE Desktop in a form-based capture method. This system also strikes an interesting blend of pay-per-use and subscription based pricing.
Finally, Legal 55 from Element 55 also offers a mobile component for blackberry that connects directly to their progressive desktop offering. The Legal 55 desktop solution promotes “zero click” capture, targeting attorney behavior by lowering the bar in terms of effort required to capture time.
A CLEAR CHOICE, END-TO-END
Of the five mobile time capture systems listed above, TimeKM is the clear choice for our firm for three reasons. First, the foundation of our mobile philosophy is that you have to connect to applications that already have significant participation at the desktop. Since 73% of our billers are entering their own time through TimeKM at the desktop, we know that some participation in the mobile application will be automatic (66 of 90 timekeepers at KYL entered their own time from Jan. 1 through March 30, 2007).
Second, my firm has experienced significant benefits from taking a device agnostic approach in our mobile strategy. We currently have three models of pocket PCs and four models of Treo in the field and, until the sudden demise of the Mobitex network in January, we also had a few dozen GoodLink G100s in the field. This flexibility has not added overhead to management and training thanks to the consistent thread of Good Technology’s Mobile Messaging (www.good.com) on all devices. In the same device agnostic spirit, TimeKM is a Microsoft Certified Partner, a member of the Palm Developer Program and, as the 77% of firms that use Blackberry will be happy to hear, it is also a Blackberry Alliance Partner (ILTA’s 2006 Technology Survey — Aggregate Answer from All Firms Responding).
Third, when you’re dealing with a 2” x 2” screen, simplicity is crucial. TimeKM is powerful in that it leverages the complexity of the desktop without any overhead on the mobile application. The TimeKM mobile version I like best has only three fields (hours, case and description). The case field can even be completed with any unique set of characters in the lawyer’s “My Cases” list, making it incredibly simple and natural to jot down a time entry.
At all capture points, TimeKM shortens the gap between the time activity occurs and when it enters the billing system.
COURSE OF ACTION
If your firm is among the many that have not layered time entry on mobility, you should first gauge participation at the desktop. If your lawyers are categorically opposed to entering their own time — if they firmly believe that it is a “clerical task” — save yourself some time and move on to a project those folks will appreciate (maybe new intercoms and buzzers so they can summon their secretaries to come take shorthand).
If you see that there is some interest in direct time capture, but participation is still low, you may want to consider the new breed of time capture applications, such as TimeKM and Legal 55. As you can tell, my firm has enjoyed great success with TimeKM, but I would encourage you to evaluate all options, particularly the end-to-end solutions so that you can deliver the best fit for your firm.
If you already have good participation from your lawyers at the desktop, then the rest is just details. (Do you need support for non-Blackberry devices? What pricing method works for you? Etc.). Take some time to evaluate which mobile time capture system is right for you, and go full speed ahead. This is one of those very rare technology projects that will have a broad positive impact on your professionals and, ultimately, a positive impact on your bottom line.
Justin Hectus is a member of our Board of Editors and the Director of Information at Keesal, Young & Logan, a 75-lawyer firm operating in five offices around the Pacific Rim. In 2003, the firm received an InfoWorld 100 Award for its groundbreaking work on custom mobile applications — the only law firm to receive this honor.