Dashboards: Making Sense of Firm Data to Drive New Business and Profitability
Dashboards are flexible, dynamic tools that can help law firms present data from dispersed systems through an easy-to-use overview of the organization's status and progress toward goals. A recent webinar hosted by Jolita Rukaityte, Product Manager at Litera, provides a useful introduction to the uses and benefits of dashboards, and some tips on how to get started or improve on a firm's dashboard journey. The webinar featured three experts in the use of dashboards:
The webinar featured three experts in the use of dashboards:
- Jessica Davis, Director, Matter Performance & Service Innovation, McCarter & English LLP
- Corrie Warren, Manager, Matter Planning, K&L Gates LLP
- Pieter van der Hoeven, Co-Founder of Clocktimizer & Senior Director, Business Development, Litera
A recording of the full webinar is available here.
What is a dashboard?
The panel started with a few quick definitions of what dashboards are. Corrie Warren calls them "one-stop data shops" that present actionable data in a digestible and visual format. Jessica Davis added that dashboards provide a quick look at the overall health of any metric that a firm wants to track, along with the ability to quickly drill down into any data element for more detail.
For Pieter van der Hoeven, dashboards are effective for seeing where the business is going from a sales perspective, with the key metrics and trends in one place. He also emphasized one very important feature of dashboards – they allow users to get back to the latest set of data, without re-doing the analysis each time. The key analysis is embedded in the dashboard itself.
The panel looked at some examples of dashboards built in Clocktimizer, including a dashboard that tracked client spending by product lines. Warren emphasized that this dashboard was set up with internal processes in mind, the tracking of business by product lines. "This dashboard consolidates what might be separate reports all in one place," she added. It can be set up to generate automated scheduled monthly reports, a single page pdf that is sent off to a decision maker without anyone needing to go back to the source data.
How do dashboards deliver data?
Other dashboard examples the panel discussed were used to track business intelligence; lawyer performance measures; work in progress; and client-specific dashboards for reporting back hours and rates to clients.
For many of these dashboards, the active users are the firm's Legal Project Managers (LPMs), whose primary focus is keeping work levels, staffing, and costs on track. To the extent that lawyers see the data, it comes from automated reporting rather than direct use of the portals.
A recurring theme in this discussion was that dashboards allow teams to "build once, but deliver automatically or on demand." Neither lawyers nor project managers need to re-build data sets or re-run analyses. The data is either presented in pre-defined, automated reports, or the user can go in and customize displays or drill into data for more detail, all on an on-demand basis.
Dashboards can be designed to track business across the firm, but Clocktimizer's customization allows managers to make changes and run reports specific to one partner or client.
Scaling LPM with multiple dashboards
Warren also described a dashboard her firms LPM team uses to track KPIs and key clients, to understand the overall makeup of the work. A main view provides an overview of all work by attorney, by practice group, or by matter. But some LPMs might focus primarily on a single client. In those cases, the LPM can group and track all the client's matters together as a portfolio. Other LPMs support many different clients, and LPMs can track each one client separately with its own dashboard.
Encouraging lawyers to use the data
A question from the webinar audience focused on the difficulty of getting some lawyers to use the data they have available to them. Warren noted that at her firm, most lawyers don't access the dashboards directly – their access is via scheduled, recurring reports containing the data they need. The LPMs do have direct access and are the ones experimenting and manipulating the data and delivering it to fulfill data requests.
Davis described it as a one-on-one, grassroots process – when a lawyer needs some data, she can sit down with that person and walk through what's available. Sooner or later that lawyer might fully see the potential. Warren added that she often sees herself as a "salesperson for data," suggesting additional types of reports and visualizations that weren't asked for, to demonstrate the possibilities.
Importance of collaboration
Rukaityte raised the importance of collaboration to refining and developing dashboard offerings. Dashboards are flexible, and it's important to start somewhere, and test it with colleagues to see what is most useful. When the people who will be using the data are able to contribute ideas for how the dashboard is formatted and delivered, that's when the buy-in is strongest.
That collaboration is essential for understanding what exactly is important for each matter and the needs of all the professionals involved. The lawyers don't always know what to ask for, so an experimental process of iteration is the best way to arrive at a result that will meet everyone's needs and provide the stickiness that will bring users back. Davis added that the collaboration should include other professionals than just the LPM staff and lawyers; the functions like finance and IT, which generate much of the data that can be integrated into a dashboard, are also valuable contributors. The collaboration is firm wide.
Van der Hoeven noted that one of the distinguishing features of dashboards is that they are much more malleable and easily updated for new requirements than previous generations of IT tools. Lawyers might be used to hearing how difficult it is to deliver the data they need, but today's dashboards are much more flexible and can be quickly modified and added to as needs change. Lowering the barriers to implementing asked-for modifications is a real benefit of flexible dashboard platforms.
"Technology has moved forward, and we are in a different place than we were ten years ago, or even five," concluded van der Hoeven. "The way people work may not have changed so much in that period, but access to information and how we can unlock it, that has changed significantly."