TIME IS MONEY. I was reluctant to start this column with such an easy cliché, but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to tee up this product review. Despite all the change swirling around the legal profession, one thing remains relatively unchanged: the importance of timekeeping. For every attorney and firm, it can be both the proverbial thorn in one’s side and the underpinning of a financially successful practice. Numerous tools have been created to support accurate and contemporaneous timekeeping, from pads of paper timesheets to sophisticated time and billing software. In this column I look at what might be the coolest tool yet, iTimeKeep.
As a sufferer of gadget-induced Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, I can’t imagine being a busy attorney and trying to keep up with my time while managing the daily barrage of client phone calls, email and text messages. Long gone are the days when an attorney could sit quietly and work for hours on a project and make one time entry. In today’s world, the bulk of an attorney’s time is entered in small increments. Unless the attorney is extremely disciplined, some portion of his or her time will be forgotten or inaccurately recorded. Even those who possess the discipline and stamina to record their hectic pace can be challenged by timekeeping.
Recently I was approached by a frantically busy attorney from within my firm who shared that he would miss our billing cutoff because his time was not in our system. Obviously this was disquieting because of the situation’s effect on cash flow. When I inquired about the cause of the delay, I learned he had been on the road for much of the month and had limited access to our systems. As he moved through his day, he had recorded his time in Notes on his iPad. Once back in the office, he had to re-enter all of the entries in our time and billing software. The positive side was he had kept up with his entries. A less meticulous attorney would likely spend hours at the end of the month forensically accounting for his or her work. What this attorney needed was an easy-to-use tool that traveled with him and would support time entry on the fly, with minimal effort. This is where iTimeKeep shows up in the story as the hero.
ITimeKeep delivers an easy-to-integrate, simple-to-use mobile timekeeping solution. The product was developed by Bellefield, a company with deep roots in the legal marketplace. Two members of the company’s executive team were cofounders of eBillingHub, now part of Thomson Reuters. From an end user’s perspective, the beauty of iTimeKeep lies in its simplicity. Little to no training is required, even for the most technology-challenged attorney. Similar sentiments are likely shared by IT staffers tasked with deploying the tool. ITimeKeep is available for most enterprise systems, including Elite Enterprise, Aderant, Juris, ProLaw, PCLaw, Tabs3 and Rippe & Kingston. I didn’t witness an implementation, but Bellefield claims typical installations are measured in hours rather than days.
The voodoo behind iTimeKeep’s mobile capabilities are sister technologies known as Bellefield Cloud and Bellefield Connect. Connect allows the software to communicate with a firm’s time and billing system. The exchange of data between the two takes place within the cloud and is protected with bank-grade encryption. Connect can be installed on any firm server; Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and Microsoft Azure AppFabric are the solution’s only technical requirements. In our bring-your-own-device world, iTimeKeep offers a lot of flexibility. Native applications are available for Apple iOS devices (that is, the iPad and iPhone), Android devices and for BlackBerry 10.
I tested the iOS app on my iPhone 5. It was connected to the demonstration database provided by Bellefield. I found the app very responsive, and the features, settings and touch commands intuitive and easy to use. Once a user is logged in, he or she is presented with the My Time screen displaying a chronological listing of time entries. Unsubmitted entries are denoted by a blue dot adjacent to the individual entries. From this screen, the view can be filtered on All, Unsubmitted and Submitted. By clicking on +, the user is taken to the Add Time screen. Because the app is connected to the user’s time and billing system, he or she can select a matter from a list of suggested matters (i.e., matters with entries in the past 30 days) or perform a search for open or active matters not listed. The matter search results can be sorted based on various combinations of client name, client number, matter name and matter number. Once a matter is selected, the user can quickly enter the corresponding date and time increment.
Settings within the app can be changed to allow zero time entries and future work dates, and time increments can be set to one-tenth, one-quarter or both. Timers can be turned on or off. With this feature turned on, individual timers can be configured for multiple clients. The app also supports several user-defined codes such as task codes, component codes, etc. A validation option is available that requires users to select one or more of the codes. Using Siri on an iPad or iPhone, work descriptions can be narrated. Spell checking and autocorrection are built in. When the user has finished recording entries, they are submitted with the click of a button. At this point they are no longer editable on the mobile device.
CHANGE IN VELOCITY
As the executive director of a midsized law firm, I like iTimeKeep’s reporting feature. Most firms struggle with time velocity, or the number of days between the time the work is done and when it gets recorded. The greater the number of days, or the lower the velocity, the more likely leakage of time will occur. The accuracy of the entries recorded can also suffer. Leakage hits the firm’s bottom line, and the negative effect on accuracy can impact client satisfaction. Using iTimeKeep’s reporting feature, law firm managers can better monitor the flow of time entry and use the information to drive cultural change. I also like Bellefield’s flexible licensing model. Seats can be purchased for a single timekeeper or for all timekeepers within a firm. Thus a firm is not paying for seats for those curmudgeons who refuse to let go of their dusty pad of time slips.
THE LAST ENTRY
If you are an attorney struggling to keep up with an enormous volume of incremental time entries or a firm looking to improve timekeeping culture, iTimeKeep is certainly worth a few minutes of due diligence. You can kick the tires yourself by downloading the app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Given the app’s ease of implementation and use, and the flexibility in licensing, it’s hard to imagine anything but high adoption rates and strong return on investment. From my perspective, that makes iTimeKeep a pretty cool tool.