Cracking the Code: Tips for Implementing Task Codes
Facing the Challenges (Part III)
After you have selected your approach to coding and have your code sets lined up and ready to go, you will face the daunting task of introducing them within the firm. During which time you will likely face one or more of these challenges:
Challenge #1 – Where to Find the Time
As task codes involve an extra step in the docketing process (for those firms that do not yet have the benefit of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools), adding this step to a lawyer’s already busy work day is not likely to make you any friends.
- Tackle by: Demonstrating “what’s in it for them,” continuously highlighting client needs and showcasing how the data will assist the lawyer in managing the client relationship and their practice. Create a sense of urgency from a competitive standpoint. Communication within the firm is critical – raise general awareness of what billing codes are, why they are used and the underlying processes. This is an instance of “short term pain, long term gain.”
Challenge #2 – Garbage In, Garbage Out
Identifying and entering the appropriate code can be time-consuming (having a financial system that limits the available options to choose from for the matter type may make this exercise somewhat easier). Yet the selection needs to be done properly and consistently - otherwise the usefulness is negated.
- Tackle by: Providing clear guidance on docketing and how specific aspects of the work are to be coded. A one-page “code” card, in hard stock, can be an excellent reference tool for the lawyers to keep on hand. Build good skills early, by incorporating best practices into student, associate and new hire training. Continuously reinforce the importance of data quality by conducting audits and staging “data hygiene” interventions. If your system allows, showcase monitoring of files against budget by phase and highlight how helpful that data can be, if properly recorded, in reporting to the client on the status of the matter and in improving the client experience. Enlist champions who have had to deliver budgets by phase and get them to explain how the information assisted them. Consider investigating products that automate time capture and automatically categorize narratives into task codes.
Challenge #3 – Square Peg, Round Hole
There may not be an obvious task code that applies, which will result in additional time being spent as well as potential inconsistencies in classification.
- Tackle by: Delivering more examples of items that fall under each code. Also, try to capture questions posed by users as they arise and share the answers with all members of the firm. Consider creating matter plans that set out the various tasks and the code associated with each task. Incorporate those plans into associate training and new hire onboarding.
Challenge #4 – The Point of Transparency
Being able to analyze and compare data is a double-edged sword. It may reveal patterns that were previously obscured, giving rise to concerns around evaluations of individual lawyer performance and profitability.
- Tackle by: Carefully considering access to the data and the intended uses, which will be dictated by the culture of your firm – and communicate! Clearly describe how the information will be used within the firm and why. Explain what the firm is hoping to achieve by capturing the information, and how it will be shared internally. Note that e-billing clients are already in a position to make a comparison, of lawyers and of firms, based on the data they receive. So having and reviewing this information in advance allows the firm to proactively address any issues internally.
The bottom line – responding promptly to client requests for budgets and fixed fees is an important aspect of today’s practice and understanding how the firm makes (and loses) money is critical to properly managing the business of the firm. Task codes can help.
Stay tuned for an upcoming ILTA webinar on a product automating lawyer time capture on December 4th.
Heather J. Ritchie is the Chief Knowledge and Business Development Officer at Hicks Morley, the largest management-side labour and employment law firm in Canada. Heather is responsible for the development and implementation of the firm’s knowledge management strategy and initiatives, including creating efficiencies for the firm and its clients.