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Corporate Law Departments

Corporate law departments need to track in-house attorney time

David O’Connor  Senior Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters Practical Law

David O’Connor  Senior Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters Practical Law

Corporate law departments are increasingly using data to develop deep insights into whether they are successfully protecting and advancing their organizations’ strategic initiatives in the most cost-effective way.

These departments are extracting and analyzing data from their matter, contract, document, and knowledge management systems to improve their legal services and demonstrate their strategic value to their organizations.

Now, they are also seeing that in-house attorney timekeeping information can be another rich source of relevant law department data. Unfortunately, most departments do not require their attorneys to keep detailed records of the time they spend working on client matters or on the department’s administrative tasks and other activities. This deprives law departments of information they could otherwise use to benefit their attorneys, operations, and organizations.

Law departments that require their attorneys to track their time can use this data for several beneficial purposes, such as:

Performance management — Managers can use attorney timekeeping data to manage, coach, and evaluate department attorneys. Timekeeping data can reveal whether attorneys are effectively performing their job responsibilities. It can also be used to demonstrate an attorney’s performance and progress against personal, department, and industry benchmarks. While timekeeping data should not supplant traditional methods of evaluating attorneys’ performance  — such as personal observations, client feedback, and objective results — it can be an informative supplement to those methods.

Attorney assignments — In-house attorneys are usually among an organization’s most highly-skilled and well-compensated employees. Law departments can use timekeeping data to match attorney assignments with their skills and experience, which can help maximize the value generated by their attorneys’ expertise and help justify their costs. If attorney timekeeping data demonstrates that senior department members are spending time on junior-level, ministerial, or administrative tasks, those attorneys can be redirected to projects that are more in line with their qualifications. Similarly, tracking and analyzing attorney time can also help the department identify and relieve attorneys of high-volume, low-value tasks which can be outsourced, shifted to more-appropriate department resources, transferred to other departments, deprioritized, or dropped altogether.

Risk identification & mitigation — Attorney timekeeping data can help a law department more quickly uncover and attack developing areas of organizational risk exposure. For example, if attorneys supporting the organization’s manufacturing operations begin recording time addressing complaints arising from materials produced at a specific manufacturing plant, the law department can quickly use that information to investigate the circumstances and manage the risk.

Strategic planning & technology roadmaps — Law departments with access to detailed metrics on the types of matters their attorneys work on and the time they spend on those matters can more effectively create and adjust their strategic plans and technology roadmaps. For example, if several department members begin recording a material number of hours supporting a client group that did not previously engage the law department, the department can examine whether it should designate an attorney to develop expertise in that area and aggregate the work under that attorney. Alternatively, the department could hire an attorney with experience in that practice area or engage an appropriately-qualified law firm. Similarly, if timekeeping information discloses that attorneys spend significant time conducting matter initiation meetings with clients or preparing routine, low-risk contracts, the department can acquire or develop a matter intake tool or client self-service portal to handle those basic tasks.

Department value — General counsel with access to detailed attorney timekeeping data can use that data to demonstrate the value a law department beings to its organization. For example, the general counsel can document the time that department attorneys spend on revenue-generating projects, calculate the dollar value of those attorneys’ contributions, and favorably compare that value to the costs that the organization would have incurred if outside counsel had handled the projects. The general counsel can also compare department metrics with industry benchmarks to demonstrate the efficiency of the department relative to its peers. This data can also help the general counsel advocate for greater investment in law department resources and protect the department’s budget in times of corporate cost-cutting.

Recommended timekeeping program features

Law department timekeeping programs should be:

      • easy to use and access, including remotely.
      • integrated with other departmental and organizational databases, such as databases that store and track matters, contracts, and documents; financials; knowledge; and performance.
      • documented and enforced.
      • electronic, with features that streamline data entry; extraction; manipulation; analysis; and retention.

As law departments more closely integrate data into their operations, advice, and decision-making, they can no longer afford to ignore the rich source of information offered by attorney timekeeping programs. Departments that track and exploit this information will quickly improve their efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity, and develop data to demonstrate their value to their organizations.


For more on software solutions for your law department, see Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker.

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