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In the legal profession, timekeeping is an arduous process requiring careful documentation. But the downsides of cutting corners are substantial. As Attorney at Work’s Frederick Esposito explains, a lawyer that bills at $150 per hour and doesn’t capture 15 minutes a day could lose as much as $9,000 a year in billable time. Extrapolating that out to a firm with 25 attorneys, the number grows to $225,000.

Timekeeping tools run the gamut, with a survey from Zero (which, it should be noted, sells timekeeping automation software) showing that 75% of timekeepers in the legal industry don’t think their employers equip them with the solutions they need to do their jobs effectively. Interestingly, the survey also found that — even when offered — email management, time entry, and workflow automation tools go underused by a majority of firms.

One vendor in the space, Time By Ping, claims to have developed a way to keep professionals engaged that involves applying AI to billing processes. Time By Ping attempts to determine when lawyers and other knowledge workers are most productive, both tracking time and offering suggestions for boosting focus. The startup today announced that it raised $36.5 million in a series B funding round led by ACME and Anthos with participation from Upfront Ventures, Initialized Capital, The House Fund, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, and Gokul Rajaram, bringing Time By Ping’s to-date fundraising to just over $55 million.

AI-powered timekeeping

Time By Ping was cofounded in 2016 by Janesh Gupta, Kourosh Zamani, Matthew Bordas, and Ryan Alshak. Alshak, the CEO, was motivated to launch Ping after caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor.

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“Quite simply, we’ve never been more mindful of how we spend our time than we are today. This stems from the pandemic, and we’re seeing it play out in the ‘great resignation,'” Alshak told VentureBeat via email earlier this month. “Firms are now looking to improve the employee experience and give knowledge workers the work-life balance that they are demanding. One key way of accomplishing this is to eliminate the pain in their day — and timekeeping is an especially big offender … While time automation builds a timesheet, this isn’t our end goal. It’s also unlocking new insight into how you spend your time at work so that you can use your time with intention.”

By capturing activities across apps on employees’ computers and leveraging AI, Time By Ping claims to be able to automatically categorize and describe employees’ activities with labels like “Phone call with corporate client” and “Legal research regarding petition for writ of mandamus.” The platform attempts to filter out idle time and display a day’s work in a chronological list, allowing users to browse activities, recall their days, and fill any gaps.

Time By Ping’s automated time-tracking software.

“Time automation shifts the timekeeping paradigm from the human telling the machine what they did at work to the machine telling the human,” VP of product Niket Desai explained to VentureBeat in an interview. “In order to do this, it first captures a professional’s entire digital footprint, which it does through integrations into the primary productivity programs that an employee uses to create billable work. It then translates this raw data into a daily timeline of work activities … We use machine learning to understand who the work was for and what are the correct billing codes … When a firm implements our software, it gets models that we have trained on anonymized historical data. Our machine learning models learn from user behavior to fine tune.”

Privacy

While the goal is to save labor, ostensibly, the surveillance potential of activity-capturing apps like Time By Ping might give some employees pause. A recent survey by ExpressVPN found 59% of remote and hybrid workers feel stress or anxiety as a result of their employer monitoring them. Another 43% said that the surveillance felt like a violation of trust, and more than half said they’d quit their job if their manager implemented surveillance measures.

Sixty-five-employee Time By Ping claims that it doesn’t record personal activity and “is capable of supporting [firms’ individual] jurisdictional and data privacy requirements.” But the company leaves the door open to a manager or supervisor using its software to track the productivity of employees.

In the U.S., as in many countries around the world, employees have little in the way of legal recourse when it comes to monitoring software. Earlier this year, California passed AB-701 legislation, which prevents employers from algorithmically counting health and safety compliance against workers’ productive time. But only two states — Connecticut and Delaware — require notification if employees’ email or internet activities are being monitored, while Colorado and Tennessee require businesses to set written email monitoring policies.

In response to questions about privacy, data retention, and data usage policies, a Time By Ping spokesperson had this to say: “The activity tracked by Time By Ping is visible to the timekeeper only, until the timekeeper submits his or her time to the firm’s billing system. This means that users have complete control over what activities they ultimately share with the firm, giving them approval over the data that their managers or supervisors may see. To ensure that we are supporting timekeeping needs while maintaining timekeeper trust, we enable customers to specify the work applications that our software will log. We will exclude certain activity from being logged at all. This means that our software does not generally record personal activity. Time By Ping also complies with all applicable data privacy laws.”

A growing opportunity

In theory, automated timekeeping tools could solve a host of organizational challenges in the office. One source finds that lawyers lose 50% to 70% of their billable time if they wait just one week to record time entries. Another source pegs the average amount of time attorneys spend filling out timesheets at 3.1 hours each month. And according to an AffinityLive report, employees lose $50,000 per year in revenue due to insufficient tracking of emails alone.

But the reality is starkly different. Time capture technology has been around for at least two decades, with a range of vendors including Thompson Reuters, Ping, and Zero using AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to automate workflows around it. Yet firms aren’t necessarily rushing to adopt it. According to a 2021 New Law Academy report, almost half of legal innovation thought leaders think that the industry is “below average” when it comes to tech adoption.

“Sometimes, it [takes] more work to utilize the technology than simply entering time,” Sean Laroque-Doherty wrote in an analysis of automated timekeeping programs for ABA Journal. “The technology [has not been] quite there to meet the expectations of lawyers, who are typically not early adopters or risk-takers.”

The trend might reverse in the future — a recent Acritas poll found that 84% of firms plan to increase their investments in technology. And Alshak asserts that the intuitiveness of Time By Ping’s software will convince firms to consider adopting sooner rather than later.

In any case, it’s true that — outside of the legal arena — automated timekeeping and scheduling apps have attracted intense investor interest during the pandemic. Legion, a startup developing analytics and scheduling software for retailers, raised $22 million in September 2020. More recently, timesheet tracking app When I Work landed a $200 million tranche.

“Last year, we more than tripled our annual recurring revenue … [But] today, our biggest challenge — and our biggest opportunity — lies in getting firms to undergo this transformation. Time automation is both an incredibly complex technical and behavioral problem,” Alshak added. “The new funds from our series B will be used to strengthen our leadership position in legal while replicating our success in adjacent industries that are burdened by manual time tracking. We’re starting by bringing time automation to enterprise accounting, where we’ve recently engaged with a major firm.”

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