Top of the clocks

As some wise person once said, necessity is often the mother of invention. Stephen Allen, global head of legal operations and innovation lead at Hogan Lovells, explains that Clocktimizer, which his firm has been using to wrangle and enrich its data stores, was created by a former corporate lawyer at DLA Piper, who found himself endlessly going through bills and narratives at the end of a matter. It was, as Allen puts it, “rooted in a genuine need.”

And the needs of the whole firm include rethinking how it services its clients, which in turn hinges on the way that it prices work. “We’re looking at automated document review, automated document production, general process automation, legal research and big data.” It’s the last of these that led to a job for Clocktimizer.

Enrich in data

“We are awash with data — our time-recording data amounts to two terabytes,” Allen explains. The firm needs to efficiently access and interrogate this huge quantity in order to deliver better client outcomes. It’s important for pricing and resource planning, he says, to get granular information on what the firm’s lawyers have been doing at a given time – and that can be a struggle.

Allen says that there’s a “quality in, quality out” issue to contend with, which all businesses are likely to struggle with. “You’re asking people who are very busy to put data into systems, which inevitably means accuracy suffers. You lose the nuance, such as: ‘were you doing first-level review or second-level review on a piece of litigation?’”

The challenge begins at the point of setup. “Databases generally only capture what you thought you wanted to know when you set them up or, even worse, what the vendor thought you wanted to know.”

He explains that using task codes to sift through data can be unwieldy, and that human error also vastly limits their usefulness, especially when trying to extract information to bring to clients. Allen says that Clocktimizer enables Hogan Lovells to comb through its existing data and use it more effectively: “I describe it as a ‘dataenrichment tool’. It’s taking data we have already and adds an extra dimension.” He explains that Clocktimizer uses natural language processing (NLP) to read the bill narratives and allocate time to a task.

It’s also a labour-saving tool: “On huge, multinational M&A transactions, for example, there might be thousands of lines to go through. For a human to do that would take an age — if you could keep someone long enough to do it, it would be a miracle.”

“As a test, we ran 75,000 lines of who, what, for whom and how much, plus a billing narrative of anything from one word to 150 words, through the software. It designated those tasks to activities in 36 seconds. We timed it!”

Categorical nuance

But the firm has also been getting even more out of its data – such as categorising matter types. It’s not always clear, he explains, what the matter type really is: “You’ll open the file thinking it’s M&A and it’s private equity, or a client may be querying something in a litigation piece, but the work done was actually arbitration.” The software can help make quick, nuanced distinctions there, too.

Furthermore, the firm can get greater insight into its sector spread, both for the firm’s internal reporting, and for pitching and pricing. “Clients aren’t just interested in other M&A or litigation work we’ve done. They want to know what work we’ve done in pharmaceuticals or banking.” It can even categorise up to 140 different subsectors.

Data then makes its way back to clients as added value. “Clocktimizer pushes out data to spreadsheets, so I can then do extra calculations and give clients graphics around how the pricing works.” Once with the client, the GC needs to explain and justify its billing back to the business – Clocktimizer can review the matter and explain what was done, in detail.

Firm-fitting

Clocktimizer and Hogan Lovells make a point of collaborating well themselves. “They’ve provided us with a lot of training for the system. I’ve got to say it’s pretty easy to use,” Allen claims. “They’re incredibly pragmatic and proactive about raising new ideas — I think we’re an organisation they can come to and ask, ‘what do you think about this?’” He also says communication with Clocktimizer is personal and open and tends towards two-way conversation.

Hogan Lovells is looking at what comes next, and Clocktimizer is helping to form that picture. “We’re looking at future planning and operations — the software gives us an idea of where the trends are, and that’s immensely useful.”

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