The problem with data, a legal angle…

Without accurate data all you have is opinion. The problem with data is that it is everywhere and nowhere. 

Whilst most businesses recognise the growing importance of ‘big data’ and its real value, knowing what data is important and how it can be used to shape future strategies is crucial.

What is needed now are analytics tools that deliver deep insights across your business that connect all the relevant data sources. Only then can raw data be transformed into useful information that can be used to create valuable dashboards and reports that can be shared easily with colleagues.

Wheat from the chaff

Managing data effectively is not a unique issue for law firms, but knowing what data is important and what is needed to help the decision-making process is a challenge. Getting at the data, analysing it and presenting it quickly is another challenge entirely.

Currently this can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but business intelligence (BI) dashboards offer a cost-effective solution, without the need for proprietary software. Most of what is likely to be needed is available on subscription from Microsoft and the technical expertise is available on a project-by-project basis.

If you are a current Microsoft Office 365 subscriber, you have access to Power BI as an out-of-the-box solution and it could help you unlock the power and profitability of your data. If you are not currently a subscriber, it is another reason to consider making the transition. And quickly.

Power BI can be used to connect to any relevant data source, including Case Management tools, HR systems, Finance and Payroll systems, bespoke legal sector apps and your own website data.

Once you understand what you want to see, Power BI helps to accelerate the tasks required to transform the complex data into easy to understand graphs and dashboards, available to anyone you choose to share them with, on any device.

Power BI offers real insights that can be delivered in real time in a way that makes it easy to absorb complicated information and make better-informed decisions.

No special skills required

Power BI has an intuitive, familiar interface, which provides personalised dashboards that present complex data in an engaging format, can be easily manipulated by anyone within your firm; fee-earner, marketing team, partner or compliance officer to get the right view that you need – no specialist IT skills needed.

Importantly, (once initial configuration is setup) you can interrogate Power BI in natural language – no developer coding wizardry is required. To find the data you need, simply type a question, like: "how many visitors did we have on the Real Estate team page this month?”

Within seconds you will see a current chart of the results on your dashboard, which you can pin there to save and use again to build a picture of how the website is performing.

And once you build up your data streams, you can drill down into that data to see how many enquiries there were, who dealt with them, how long they took to respond, what was the outcome, time spent, fees billed, etc.

Personalising the dashboard in this way creates a monitoring and reporting resource that everyone in your business will find increasingly valuable.

Share and Inform

Setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is important, but understanding how every element of your business is performing in relation to them is critical to your success – you have a major problem if a client is the first to raise an issue.

Power BI allows you to create a proactive reporting structure. If any of your KPIs are out of tolerance, a notification is immediately sent to highlight the problem, to those that can resolve it.

It doesn’t just have to be a KPI, but any target, like hours against fees on a fixed fee matter, when a target is reached, predicted to breach or missed, a timely notification ensures the situation is managed, before it becomes a difficult conversation with the client or unrecovered fees.

Dashboards empower every member of staff, irrespective of their role at the firm, allowing them to view and manage their own performance in real-time. This helps drive a positive culture of accountability and performance, resulting in increased billable hours, quicker billing and more effective collections.

IT and finance teams will have the ability to do ad-hoc analysis, ensuring fast and accurate responses to questions being asked by partners – results based on data, not opinion. Role-based dashboards provide targeted information for management, partners, fee-earners, etc.

It's not all about you

Power BI driven dashboards will significantly improve the way law firms handle client matters, enabling existing matters to be found more easily, with role-based dashboards ensuring partners are informed of actual performance against forecast outcome.

Matters that are overrunning or forecast to overrun can be easily identified, allowing time to resolve, to protect the firm’s profitability. The dashboards will also help identify top performing matters by revenue and time, whilst showing matters in context of overall firm, department and team profitability targets.

The emphasis is now all about the client experience and ensuring longevity of the relationship. Dashboards offer the ability to quickly create accurate matter plans and proposals that improve the service provided to clients, which will help retain existing business and win more new clients.

Forward with confidence

Dashboards are scalable, and the solution can be extended to include data from many separate systems, including external third-party systems like Oracle, Dynamics, Facebook, Salesforce, Twitter, Sage, etc.

Making relevant, current and important data available readily to the people that need it, ensures they have the insight and confidence to make the right decisions more quickly.

They can plan ahead, allow for busy periods and divert resources as appropriate to help improve the service the firm offers, increase utilisation and grow the business.

Recent months have seen big changes in how firms operate in relation to personal data, thanks in a large part to GDPR.

Building dashboards that reflect how that data is stored, use and shared, allows firms to quickly assess their ongoing compliance and address any issues highlighted.

Getting the balance right

The benefits to the efficiency and profitability of any law firm are clear, but there remains one tricky obstacle to the successful implementation of a data-driven approach to the provision of legal services; who does the driving?

Typically, those who understand the potential within interrogating large volumes of data do not understand the problems that need to be solved, or the questions that need to be asked.

And those working with the problems, know the questions they want to ask, but do not fully understand just what benefits a data-driven approach can deliver.

Big data is not an IT project. Similarly, it is not a subject to be approached without technical help or ignored for lack of support. Striking the right balance between a business and technology partnership is critical to the successful adoption of a data-driven approach in the future.

Law firms have to ensure the people who understand the data and the people who understand the problems the firm is trying to overcome or the objectives trying to be achieved are in the same room and share the responsibility of delivery – whether that’s in-house or external resources.

The sponsorship for big data starts at the top and trickles down. Senior management must buy-in or lose clients and opportunities to leaner, more agile firms that have recognised the true potential of all the data they can consume; within their business and without.

Potential at your fingertips

Successful implementation of a data-driven approach will deliver new and exciting legal insights. Even small law firms will possess significant quantities of data, which can be accessed and analysed from past cases and legislation to transactions and client contracts - to say nothing of email conversations and phone records.

This ability to review previous performance on matters and have important data visualised, like actual hours spent against predicted, or fees charged against cost, can all help inform better, more accurate decisions on future matters of a similar nature.

And Power BI allows this data to be retrieved and reviewed quickly, so firms can respond not only with more accurate pricing, but do so more quickly in full confidence the data on which the response is based is entirely accurate.

But remember, if a data-driven approach to the future of your law firm is a new concept, then it is important to not try running, before walking has been mastered.

It is critical to a successful implementation of a data analytics strategy to focus on developing it first in specific areas of your business that directly impact revenues. This will deliver quick, high-profile wins that demonstrate potential future success and ensure buy-in from across the firm.

Squaring the Circyl

The only limit to the data solutions driven by Power BI for every part of a law firm is the imagination of those involved in operating and managing it.

Power BI and the dashboards it can create offer an opportunity to get under the skin of your own business like never before and allow management teams to make decisions based on accurate information, not opinion.

Now is the time to leverage the source of a readily available advantage over your competitors: the data you have on your clients and all your historical activity to this point.

Improving your service, reflecting the changing needs of your clients before they know or ask and providing more value in your relationships will ensure your firm thrives – and help is at hand.

Circyl are Business Intelligence specialists who help businesses become more productive through the use of tools such as Power BI. We are also expert in other Microsoft platforms such as Office 365SharePoint and Dynamics 365, so we have most business productivity angles covered.

If we can help in any way, please get in touch on 03333 209969 or email us on