Business Intelligence for Law Firms

What is it about entering time metrics that is so hard? 

Perhaps it is the tendency to get involved in what you are doing at the time and fail to note the time spent at that moment? Then it is time-consuming and challenging to reconstruct what you worked on and for how long at the end of the day? And it only gets harder to reconstruct, the longer the task of recording that information is postponed. 

 

Good billing practice transforms profits

Yet accurately recording the time spent on each client matter is vital for success in any law firm. It’s important ethically – you don’t want to overcharge or undercharge your clients. It’s important financially – you can’t optimise profits if time spent is going unrecorded. It’s important for compliance and reputationally.

It’s probably fair to say that time recording is seen as a necessary evil by most fee earners. It can be time-consuming and frustrating looking backwards to reconstruct time logs by relying on email histories, document management system entries, or perhaps even phone logs. 

Yet we all understand that recording the time spent on each client matter is one of the most important KPIs in any law firm – not only in terms of billable hours, but in terms of HR and personal performance metrics, forward planning and resourcing and the calculation of any fixed fee agreements. 

 

Manual processes are time consuming and problematic

There are many digital tools which claim to be able to assist with time and activity logging. So why, then, do these processes remain so resolutely manual in so many law firms?

Typically, there is a four-step process here. Information must be:

  • Recorded 
  • Collected and collated 
  • Visualised 
  • Delivered to the appropriate decision makers for analysis (or, in the case of time and activity information, to be billed).

 

If you’re recording time and activity data manually, this will need to be gathered from all fee earners and then compiled into a report or spreadsheet. The data will be entered into the billing systems, but how do the Practice Manager and other key decision makers access the information? Typically, it might be distributed in a Microsoft Excel file which is then emailed to the relevant decision makers.

 

The benefit of real-time information

As well as being time-consuming and offering plenty of potential for human data entry errors, there are other problems with such a manual approach. 

Monthly reports on activity and billing performance are, necessarily, always backwards looking. They offer a snapshot of what has happened over the previous month. Reporting in this way offers opportunities for reflection, but not action.

By moving away from static reports to real-time information about current performance, that changes: information can be used not only for reflection but also to inform action.

Where are the issues? Why are they happening? What can we do to resolve them now before the month-end or before they become a problem?

For example, if it happens that growth is not the same as profitable growth, you can act before any investment becomes a problem for the firm.

 

Automation can be easier than you think

How can we move beyond backwards-looking static snapshots of performance within a particular period being shared insecurely over email?

The first step is to improve the ease with which the time and activity information can be recorded by fee earners. 

With Actionstep, you have options. You can easily start a timer from any screen, have multiple timers open simultaneously to track how long you are spending on various activities, and enter any relevant notes. Actionstep also ‘suggests’ time that has not been billed.  The handy mobile app also enabled fee-earners to record time when they’re away from the office.

Most importantly, that time record data is stored in your practice management system – not on a piece of paper or a standalone ticker app.

 

Collected, collated and visualised

Once the data is collected directly in your practice management system, the opportunities to use it profitably are significant.

Actionstep is one of the only legal practice management systems that has full back and front office functionality. Run your billing from your matters and have the financial information posted through to the general ledger and financial reporting functions. Plus, with Actionstep, the choice of either replacing your existing accounting software or just to use Actionstep’s front-office features alongside your existing accounting software is entirely yours.

Beyond the e-billing and financial reporting functions, information is also easy to share with the key decision makers within the firm.

A new Actionstep add-on called ActionBI offers a dynamic and interactive set of dashboards and reports that give you a holistic, birds eye view of your firm with the ability to easily deep dive into data points.

Built for the web browser, ActionBI includes the following dashboards and reports:

  • Company Dashboard
  • Team Billing
  • Individual Billing
  • Team Activity
  • Individual Activity

 

These live, ‘drill to detail’ visual reports can be easily shared via easy-to-understand dashboards with all key decision makers in the practice.

 

Moving from billing data to real business intelligence

By being able to easily present live data to key decision makers within your firm, you are a significant and practical step closer to the goal of data driven decision making.

You can see information in real-time about what is really working in your firm: where are the issues? What’s causing them and how can these causes be addressed? 

Where are the good results? How does this align with other best practice metrics? Where is best practice happening? 

In this way, you can quickly see what and where you need to improve in order to ensure success – as well as to identify and share best practice across your firm.

It offers opportunities to take action quicker and, over time, as increasing amounts of performance data is saved in an easily reportable format, make more informed decisions and predictions to ensure that your firm is operating on sound commercial principles.

 

For more information about Actionstep, please contact our team:

Tel.: 01865 521039

Info@cloudify.legal