Comment: Practice analysis as a tool to manage the future

By Pieter van der Hoeven, co-founder and CEO of Clocktimizer

Most of us have felt the impact of Covid-19 on our agendas. For the majority of legal professionals, the pandemic has made the job of matter planning even more challenging. They must now battle increased uncertainty about when work will start, and what it will include. But without the right tools for the job, most are reduced to guesswork.

The rise of the practice manager (sometimes disguised as a legal project manager) is a sign that law firms are coming to recognise the importance of diary and resource management. Not only because they keep matters running to schedule and budget, but because they drive efficiency. So how can firms make the most of the wealth of new tools and techniques available to support them?

The tools of the trade

For most, scoping a matter in a law firm is an exercise in resource identification. It is about defining what resources or services will be needed, and identifying the cost at which those services can be provided. Normally with time frames attached. However, very few firms will then go the extra mile in identifying whether those resources will be available at the moment they are needed. As a result, matters (and legal professionals) can run into trouble when they realise they cannot possibly deliver on promises made.

It is a problem recognised throughout the industry. Equally, most legal professionals will argue that the unpredictable nature of matters prevents accurate resource allocation. Who knows how litigation will progress? Whether M&A will run smoothly?

However, arguments like this fail to take into account some of the ways technology, and seasoned practice managers can help. As I learned during a recent Clocktimizer webinar, hosted with Stephen Allen of Elevate and Royale Price of Greenberg Traurig.

How certain is the work?

Elevate has a key way of managing uncertain diaries when scoping matters. By assigning a percentage likeliness to work they can ensure that no single team’s diary is likely to become overloaded. Does one team or professional have a diary full of work that is 90% likely to happen? Spread that out over teams who only have work with a 60% chance of materialisation.

By combining the likeliness of work, with the data tools like Clocktimizer can generate about how long a specific piece of work is likely to take, firms have a far more accurate picture of resource allocation. This data paints a more granular picture of specific resource weakness. Data which can then go on to inform choices about either hiring, or outsourcing. Importantly, these choices can be made in advance, rather than coming to this realisation when a matter is already delayed.

Early warning systems are essential

For firms who have yet to dive into resource allocation in depth, something as simple as early warning systems can support informed decision-making. All matters, regardless of value, can benefit from alerts which indicate budget usage.

These notifications, and general budget oversight, allow LPM’s and practice managers to identify unexpected costs or delays to the matter. Because they are created in real time, they give the space needed to identify the problem, and choose to either allocate a different resource, or return to the client to discuss their preferred solution.

Use data to identify outsourcing opportunities

“There are huge opportunities in using alternative resources, especially where you are using fixed fees to recoup tech costs and drive internal costs lower. This in turn drives down external prices making you more competitive.” Royale Price, Director of Pricing and Matter Management at Greenberg Traurig

How can firms choose between outsourcing work, or hiring more professionals internally to manage it? By looking at data. At Greenberg, Royale uses Clocktimizer insights to identify the cost of specific activities. Additionally, the firm can then look at the volume of work, and the amount of internal resources to tackle it. With this level of insight, informed choices can be made about whether it is cost effective to outsource or not.

Finally, where firms are able to identify high cost, repetitive work, they are also able to identify the business case for innovation. Tools which can automate, or reduce the labour associated with these tasks can be tested against the old cost of services. In turn, a firm can be certain of sufficient resources, and the use case behind them.

Predicting the future isn’t impossible

Clearly, none of us have a crystal ball. However, the sophistication of tools and techniques to tackle resource management can get the industry pretty close. Using practice analysis tools to identify work which should be outsourced or automated, can reduce the burden on overstretched teams. Early warning systems can then prevent your matters from overrunning in budget or time once begun. Combining these techniques with clever diary management means that forward thinking law firms should be able to always have the right resource for the matter at hand.

Pieter van der Hoeven is co-founder and CEO of Clocktimizer. He studied law at university in Utrecht, where he met co-founder Bram Fokke. Upon completing his Masters in Law, van der Hoeven worked for DLA Piper. He and Fokke founded Clocktimizer in 2014.