Case Studies

Kyle McDonald: barrister

Kyle McDonald
Hey Kyle, tell us a bit about what you do.

I work in Victoria, Australia as a criminal law barrister – similar to a trial attorney in the US – so I specialize in court room advocacy. My days are divided between trial and appellate court appearances, advisory work, and the multitude of tasks involved in managing my practice. I also author a legal textbook, contribute to several legal reference services, and deliver occasional legal training.

Why is time-tracking important for your legal practice?

Since I bill for my time, I want to capture it as accurately as possible. Time tracking lets me get a clearer idea of my workload allocation and determine whether I’ve been charging too much or too little. It also helps me precisely identify non-billable time – such as practice administration, phone calls and email – to quantify exactly how much they cost, and where I can minimize or change activities which do not benefit my practice.

So, why did you choose an automatic time tracking app?

I’m always looking for technology which can help my legal practice. But it really must help; if the costs in time, complexity or money outweigh the supposed benefits of a tool, I jettison it immediately. For me, automating time tracking is a no-brainer: why spend more time on administration than I need to? Effective automation produces a more accurate time record than manual timers, since every detail is actually recorded. And with reliable, accurate data I can bill honestly and make informed decisions that truly benefit my practice.

Why did you choose Timely for the job?

I was very interested in Memory. By automatically tracking everything I work on in the background, I can switch between tasks and cases without administrative interruption. I also found Timely to be more user-friendly than Toggle – which obliged me to reconstruct time whenever I forgot to activate timers – and more powerful and flexible than Chrometa, which is not location-based and only seems to integrate with a smaller range of programs (it can’t recognise work in Apple Mail or other third-party email clients).

What about legal management software with built-in time trackers?

Very few legal practice management applications focus on the peculiar workflow of barristers. The majority are aimed at solicitors and attorneys, and assume a team environment. All of the legal practice management software I’ve looked at fails one or more of my “help vs. hinder” criteria, and few offer Timely’s location-based tracking. Besides, I really don’t need all the bells and whistles: I use a ScanSnap scanner, Adobe Acrobat DC, Dropbox and iPad to create a paperless workflow; iCloud calendars and reminders for scheduling; and BusyContacts for contact management.

Walk us through how Timely fits into your workflow.

Starting a case: I set up tags for common tasks to get a clear idea of how much time I spend each month on recurring tasks. Then I add the solicitors or legal firms who brief me as “clients”, and add each of their clients (the parties involved in the court case) as “projects” under them. I enter the agreed charge-out rate so Timely keeps a running tally of time and money expended.

Customization: I colour-code my work: red for criminal cases; dark blue for civil; light blue for administration; green for personal items; purple for tax accounting. That way, when I view my weekly hours in Timely, I get a clear idea of how I spent my time.

Daily interaction: I ensure I have the Timely app running in the background on my phone, so it captures my location throughout the day, and the Memory Tracker is set to start at log-in, so it can run in the background on all my Macs. I set Timely notifications to remind me at the end of each day to review logged hours and tags, and assign them to my various projects.

Finishing a case: At the end of a case or a stage of a proceeding, I produce an unbilled hours report for the preceding month or week. Once I invoice those hours, I set them to “billed” in Timely. I double-check that I’ve billed for all my work and then archive the project.

Do you mind sharing how you manage time spent on cases in Timely?

Sure! Here’s a daily snapshot of my Memory Timeline, displaying all the programs I used (including individual file names!) and my location:


Here’s a completed week with time I’ve allocated for billing:


And here’s a report showing how much time I’ve spent on different tasks:

Any final (non-legal) digital advice to other lawyers?

A properly constructed digital practice provides enormous benefits to every lawyer, so spend time thinking about your workflow, how technology can support it, and how you will store your data.

It’s critically important to maintain good back-ups in case a device fails and ensure all data is secured. I maintain local versioned backups using Apple’s Time Machine; clones of my hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner; and cloud back-ups for remote redundancy.

I also ensure all devices are secured with strong passwords, using two-factor authentication wherever possible; full device encryption; individual passwords for every account and service, stored in a password manager; and virtual private networks (VPN) for internet access, especially when using public WiFi.

Finally, be able to move work between devices when travelling (without hiccups or data loss), with a single up-to-date version of data/documents accessible from every platforms. While I run my legal practice almost exclusively on Macs, I want platform-agnostic tools that can be easily used across all my devices, including iOS.

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