August 10, 2020

Volume X, Number 223

August 10, 2020

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Is Your Smartphone Costing You Thousands Each Month in Billable Time?

Back in the early 2000s, I had a friend who’d recently purchased a new-fangled flip-style mobile phone. Oohing and aahing, I asked if he loved all the things he could do with it. “I can play games on it and check the news, stock prices, sports scores, and weather” he lamented, “but I can’t figure out how to just make a phone call.”

Flash forward a decade to the ubiquity of smartphones, with their sleek design, shiny screens, and bright, colorful icons. Nearly every lawyer, young and old, has one. Newsletters and blog posts extol the smartphone’s positive impact on a lawyer’s productivity. New apps appear in the store almost daily to assist with note taking, dictation, file creation and storage, calendaring, practice management, and time tracking, to name a few. Bar associations and professional organizations host conferences, meetings, and CLEs to offer practical training on making the most of tablets, smartphones and cloud services.

Despite this, when lawyers use their smartphones for the most basic of tasks – talking on the phone – they struggle with capturing and billing that time. Are you one of them? Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do I spend a lot of billable time on the phone?
    Surveys show that lawyers spend nearly one-quarter of their billable time on the phone, with over 70% percent of that time spent on the desktop phone in their office.
     
  • Do I use my mobile smartphone for work calls when I’m out of the office?
    If you do, you’re not alone. Lawyers report spending an average of 23 percent of their time working outside the office, during which time over 85 percent make work calls on smartphones.
  • Have I struggled finding good smartphone apps to use for work?
    Although a majority of lawyers responding to the 2012 ABA Legal Technology Survey use their own personal devices for work (making them part of the growing Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, movement), two-thirds have never downloaded a general business app, while even fewer have tried a legal-specific smartphone app. 
  • Have I ever forgotten or been unable to bill my time spent on the phone?
    You’re human and you’re busy, so you’re probably like most lawyers, who estimate that they lose a conservative five billable hours related to phone calls each month. Some of these hours are for forgotten, undocumented, or untimed calls. Others come from time spent reconstructing the call history for billing purposes, an arduous and inaccurate task.

If you answered yes to these questions, then that ubiquitous productivity tool – your smartphone – may make you more productive but still not help your bottom line. At an average hourly billable rate of $250, an office of four lawyers stands to lose nearly $5,000 every month, just on billable phone time.

With numbers like these, it’s never been more important that attorneys have access to timekeeping solutions that make it simple to track billable hours while on the phone. There are many time-trackers on the market, but common complaints about them include:

  • They’re too complex and full of bells and whistles that I will never use” (just like my friend with the fancy new flip phone).
     
  • “They require the use of a timer, which I often forget to start and stop.”
     
  • “They don’t capture time on the desktop phone, where I make the majority of my calls.”
     
  • “There’s too much manual entry required to create detailed records. Postponing the entry does nothing to alleviate the chore of billing reconciliation at the end of the month.”

When evaluating the options, consider these requirements:

  • Choose a solution that’s so simple, compliance is a snap.
    Look for a solution that is compatible with both mobile and desktop phones. From here, you can easily capture the call details and duration as it happens, no matter which device you’re using. In seconds, you can ensure that every minute spent on the phone is billed. 
  • Simplify the billing reconciliation process with 24x7 access to the captured call data.
    A worthwhile solution will reclaim the hours previously spent digging through voicemail, paper phone messages, calendar appointments, and mobile call logs to reconstruct billable phone time. The internet is the perfect platform for the billing staff to gain access to captured call data from any browser whenever and wherever needed.
     
  • Impress your clients with descriptive, auditable billing records.
    Capturing comprehensive call details as they happen will improve your billing accuracy and show your clients exactly what they’re paying for. The more detail you can provide, the more they will trust your records, and the more likely you will be to collect on each invoice. Greater detail will help speed up your billing reconciliation time as well.
     
  • Minimize training time and increase usage by ensuring that the app is virtually identical on any device.
    If the process of capturing call information is the same on both office and mobile phones, it will quickly become a habit, no matter which device is in use. Consolidating the records generated from every device in a single, intuitive place online will help billing staff easily export and create line items for invoices.

While many time-trackers offer bells and whistles that sound great on paper, their complexity leaves many lawyers feeling like my friend who couldn’t figure out how to make a call on his new flip phone. Focus on simplicity to find a telephone timekeeping solution that you’ll actually use. An app that works automatically on any device will eliminate lost revenue for billable phone time, provide an audit trail for your clients, and allow your lawyers to be both productive and profitable.

© 2020 Estech Systems, Inc. National Law Review, Volume III, Number 121

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About this Author

Lorie Robinson, Product Manager, Estech Systems Inc.
Product Manager

Lorie Robinson is the product manager of cloud services at Estech Systems, Inc. (ESI), where she is driving the launch of Abillity (abillitysolution.com), a time and billing application. Lorie has nearly 15 years of experience leading the strategy and execution of online services and mobile applications at organizations including Quickoffice, Sabre Airline Solutions, and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Lorie received a J.D. from the University of Houston and is a member of the Texas and Illinois bars.

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