Think Tank: The Effects of the Timekeeper Experience with Legal Tech in the Business of Law

legal technology

Think Tank: The Effects of the Timekeeper Experience with Legal Tech in the Business of Law

By Emmanuel Kyrinis, Vice President of Product Management, Aderant

A new Legal Business Report by Aderant examines the idea that greater efficiencies in the front office of a law firm, can dramatically improve both efficiency and effectiveness in the back office. In turn, this has a tangible effect on profits.

One path to improving efficiency in the front office is through technology. The challenge with delivering on that promise is the fact that technology only works if people use it – and user adoption among lawyers can sometimes be trying.

Vendors bear part of the responsibility because the traditional legal software solution has been rather clunky and complicated. In recent years, trends like the consumerization of technology have pushed vendors to focus on the user experience (UX).

A user that purchases technology as complex as a mobile phone for personal use, and intuitively knows how to use it, naturally comes to expect the business software they use at work to deliver the same ease-of-use. We refer to this concept as a narrower subset of UX called the timekeeper experience.

The Fundamentals of a Good Timekeeper Experience

The timekeeper experience is the intersection of several factors including technology, user behavior and design. It is an examination of how timekeepers interact with various systems, including their disposition toward those systems and the precise details of the actions they are there to complete.

The goal of any law firm is to optimize these interactions to be as seamless as possible. In other words, paying careful attention to how a system presents information to an attorney, and ensuring it is depicted in a way that draws attention and enables the timekeeper to act, rather than pause to think about the next step.

Often, this means breaking down large processes into concise and task-based activities that steer a user toward completion. Checking email on a mobile device is a good illustration of this concept. This activity is completed in just a few swipes and without the user having to think about it – it’s almost directed.

A second important aspect of the timekeeper experience is surfacing relevant information –no more and no less than what is needed at any given moment. This requires a clean interface that prevents distractions that might delay or interrupt productivity.

A third aspect is providing a single consolidated view. Rather than logging into one system, like an email application, only to receive reminders from another – and then having to access that separate system, like a financial application, to take action, these two systems are woven together on a single screen that becomes part of the daily workflow.

Five Attributes in Legal Tech that Facilitate Efficiency

The best-designed technology goes unnoticed. It draws neither criticism for being cumbersome nor praise for its elegance. It simply facilitates what a timekeeper needs to complete in the most expeditious and thorough means possible. If the task is to enter time, the user should be able to do it without even realizing he or she is engaged in the process.

There are several attributes that affect the timekeeper experience that law firms would do well to look for in procuring legal technology systems. These include the following.

  1. Visually engaging.

Visually engaging systems naturally direct timekeeper attention to the things that are most important. Instead of displaying a dozen icons on a screen, the display is limited to just the two or three tiles that matter. A visually engaging system also breaks down larger processes into simple and concise tasks which facilitate completion.

  1. Personalizes preferences.

Every timekeeper has preferences – and systems that achieve broad timekeeper adoption enable lawyers to work how they want to work. This means providing the ability to customize a dashboard with the elements they want to see in their view.

Think about the way the red dots near app icons on a mobile device draw your attention.  Getting rid of those dots are a key motivation for checking email or social media apps. The same principles are at work in timekeeper dashboard.

However, the timekeeper should be able to adjust what triggers an alert. For example, if a case crosses a certain budget threshold, an alert may be warranted, but the timekeeper ought to be able to adjust that threshold.

  1. Facilitates self-service.

Self-service means providing timekeepers with the control to answer simple questions easily and seamlessly on their own. For example, if a client calls, a partner can easily review the status of a case or budget without calling the finance team. Timekeepers need data at the moment they are in front of a client, rather than being dependent on finding someone in the back office to run a report, which can take hours and disrupting their current work.

  1. Provides natural usability.

The usability of system interactions facilitates a workflow that feels natural and with as few clicks and interactions as possible. Proper visual design naturally draws attention that smoothly enables the completion of a business process. A timekeeper shouldn’t have to browse around looking for the right button to begin or end a task.

Like visual engagement, usability has a role in segmenting large processes down in simple and easily accomplished workflows. Marking up pre-bills or approving expenses are examples of simple law firm workflows. Equally important is surfacing the most important workflows and sequencing those workflows for each timekeeper.

  1. Enabling mobility.

Mobility in legal technology is table stakes. Unfortunately for many systems in law firms, mobility was a feature bolted on after the product was brought to market.

Improving the timekeeper experience means mobility must be baked into the very foundation of a business application to provide the same level of functionality on the move, as an attorney would expect in the office.

Whether in a meeting at the office, at a client site, or at home, each of these scenarios is a mobile environment and an increasingly common working location among legal professionals. The agile timekeeper needs to be able to quickly bring up manageable tasks on a tablet at any point in time.

How precisely timekeepers engage with legal systems is a growing area of importance for law firms because of constraints being in placed on time. Law firm systems should both minimize the time a timekeeper spends away from revenue-generating activities and streamline the flow of information between the front office and the back, a tight collaboration within the firm.

Legal technology alone can’t solve these problems for law firms but focusing on the timekeeper experience, will go a long way toward improving margins.

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