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Squirreling Away the Data

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The squirrel is a great symbol of the goal of my sister’s profession.

I needed an image to illustrate a concept, and a rock squirrel delivered. 

I was looking out my office window, thinking about the post I wanted to write about my sister’s career as a software consultant, when this fine fellow appeared. His cheeks bulging with seed from my bird feeder, he was industriously digging the gravel on the xeriscaped slope of my yard.

After a while he paused and began to disgorge his bulging cheeks. Then he followed up by thoroughly pawing rocks over his cache. Turning his back on me, perhaps in need of privacy, he rose and defecated. How clever. Now the site is marked for his return.

Kate Heath

Famously industrious, squirrels are also known as “masters of preparedness.” The creature is a great symbol of the goal of my sister’s profession. She supports software  like Timeslips and Time Matters/Billing Matters and PC Law. All of these are vital to any enterprise that bills by the hour, and this includes law, accounting, architectural, public relations, and design firms. The software gives them the ability to capture, store, and then retrieve every item of data they need to bill accurately, manage funds, and evaluate and enhance productivity.

The story of this software begins back in the 1980s. The IRS declined deductions for home offices unless taxpayers could provide accurate information on exactly how much time they spent there. Two neighbors developed a software solution that became known as Timeslips, and others soon followed.

Kate has a degree in English from Stanford University, but she has always been a whiz with numbers. She was working in accounting when she became a “field agent” or trouble-shooter for Timeslips. Soon she was a certified consultant among a group of experts who have been gathering annually for 25 years to train on new functions.

Kate works solo, but she recently affiliated with an elite subgroup based in Houston called 35*45 Consulting. Since Kate is unable to be expert in everything, she values the additional talents and experience she can provide to clients through these colleagues.

The various members are located all over the United States including New York, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Washington as well as New Mexico. With remote access, they can work with anyone virtually anywhere, including abroad.

There is a cost involved in acquiring the software and training staff in it, but the payoff is huge. Even after the training, Kate is always on call to help with problems and to provide ongoing support, and the benefits include the following:

1)      Automation reduces the amount of support staff needed. One client in a law firm of about 20 recently told Kate that she had saved them at least half of a full-time assistant. With her help, many solo practitioners now work without a secretary.

2)      Revenue increases when recordkeeping improves and captured data goes into billing.

3)      The ability to extract data on productivity can result in streamlined staff. A client recently announced that, based on a productivity analysis, her firm had just terminated two “deadbeat attorneys.”

4)      Billing practices can be improved with Kate’s ongoing analysis. In one case, she proved that a firm was not making its hourly billing rate when it charged flat fees.

5)      Accounting irregularities will be discovered. Kate has identified two cases of embezzlement within law firms. This is is not an uncommon experience among consultants.

6)      She can provide accounting support for firms that don’t have that expertise on staff, and she works with their CPAs to develop the reports they need to prepare tax returns.

7)      When bank statements are not reconciled properly—and this is quite common—errors result that infect accounting and billing. Kate routinely provides this service for many clients.

8)      Data collection allows law firms to stay on top of client funds, which include retainers and settlement fees. “Bar associations have no sense of humor” about mismanagement, Kate says, and it can result in disbarment.

Kate now lives in New Mexico but began her career in Washington, D.C., where she still has many clients. Some she has worked with for 16 years, and they have become almost like family. Kate jokes that she, like all consultants, should probably charge a fee for “therapy.” They frequently end up mediating in difficult internal situations and occasionally identify employees who cannot perform adequately.

A Master of Preparedness

No firm routinely uses all of the features these time-and-billing and case management software packages offer. However, wherever she provides ongoing support, Kate is continually finding ways to extract data for new needs that arise. This very advanced technology allows a firm, like that rock squirrel that scented his cache, to retrieve every nut, every seed, every kernel of information in order to meet any need. And then they too acquire the reputation of masters of preparedness.

 

Kate can be reached at kheath@3545consulting.com.

 

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