1. Decide on KPIs

You can't manage what you don't measure" is a common mantra in the business world, especially when it comes to administration and marketing.

When it comes to making legal practice data available and actionable, you first have to determine what numbers matter and what improved performance targets make sense. As marketing agency member organization vstates: "Like any data exercise, the first step to tracking and measuring is determining what you want to know."

Deciding what you want to measure, therefore, has a huge impact on what you end up being able to manage and improve. These priority metrics are typically called your Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs.

As for what KPIs are most important, Business Adviser Anish Ambujakshan suggests that "it depends. It depends on the direction and priorities of the company." But, he says, ultimately, "all KPIs must support the company's strategic and operational direction."

For the purposes of setting goals and addressing firm challenges, consider what specific areas you are concerned with, in terms of things that can be measured quantitatively Do you want:

  • Higher profits per case?
  • More consultation bookings per month?
  • Lower cost-per-acquisition?
  • More acquisitions for specific marketing channels?
  • Guidance on how to optimize your marketing spend?

Each individual question will have a KPI attached. We speak more about choosing appropriate KPIs and suggest some most important KPIs for law firms in our other informational pages. Review those pieces for more guidance.

Suffice it to say that your commitment to improving begins with a yardstick: the scale by which you will measure your current performance and then set goals for improving.


2. Personalize Your Dashboard Set-up

A dashboard is a tool that brings all of your data into one place and then analyzes it for you, outputting simple-to-understand numbers and visualizations that help you when making decisions, either day-to-day or for long-term strategy.

When choosing a dashboard, your top priority is that it should be capable of integrating with all of the sources of data you use, such as your call tracking software, case management software, and Client Relationship Management (CRM) software. You want your dashboard to be able to easily import data from all of these sources in order to accurately represent the KPIs you're prioritizing.

Note that, while few dashboard products are set up to be compatible with the most popular law firm platforms, Truve is. It's designed to be user friendly and easy to set up, with most of the needed integrations being built in and ready out-of-the-box.

Once you have everything all in one place, you will need to then decide what's most important to focus on. You may also have different types of KPIs that matter to different roles. The KPIs that are most important for a paralegal to track will be different compared to an attorney, marketing manager, finance director, etc.

To highlight these KPIs, you'll want to customize the way your dashboard displays. You will have options on which KPIs to represent and how they are represented. Options include charts tracking performance per-associate, line graphs, bar graphs, etc. Experiment with the product to get the perfect view for your goals.

It may be possible that you need multiple views, and most dashboards can accommodate this through the use of separate tabs, reports, or sub-dashboard readouts. For example, a look at overall costs can be a line graph on the "home screen" for the dashboard, but have a breakdown readout for line-item type expenses or a bar graph showing the highest cost areas in the last month.

Many analytics platforms also enable you to customize dashboards per role: a partner screen can display the top-level realization rate for the firm overall, while someone in charge of team management may see performance by role or individual.

The goal here is for everything represented to be the most-relevant and most-actionable form it possibly can be. Retail and supply chain analytics software provider SILVON recommends that your dashboard "only contain the data that is necessary to make quick, real-time decisions based on operational performance." Showing data in a "snapshot" form, they say, "decreases the possibility of missing key performance anomalies that could end up costing the enterprise money."

What this means is that how you set up your analytics platform matters quite a bit, and could affect your ability to derive a return on your investment. You are free to tweak and improve your dashboard set-up over time, but definitely be intentional about how you approach it from the first few steps. In other words, don't assume the default view will provide everything you need to think and act strategically.


3. Set SMART goals

A commonly used acronym in business, SMART goals are goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

These types of goals stand in stark contrast to goals that can't fulfill all of these criteria. For example, "we want to make more money" forms the shape of a goal but doesn't fill in all of these blanks. But this goal does: "We want to improve profits by 10% - 20% over the next three quarters."

It also helps to break down goals into components. Ask: "what would raise profits?" and set granular goals from there. Examples can include:

  • Increasing billing per client by x amount?
  • Increasing conversion rates by marketing source x percentage.
  • Lowering average cost-per-case acquisition by x percentage.
  • More acquisitions for specific marketing channels?
  • Increasing new client acquisitions by x amount.
  • Reducing costs-per-matter by x percentage.
  • Lifting utilization or realization rates by x percentage.

Your goal is your landmark on your journey towards improvement. It's something that guides you. You may find that you don't reach your goal. You may find that as you near your goal, you had another, slightly different destination in mind. The important thing is to set your intention to reach somewhere, and to learn from the process of working towards that goal.

You will get better at this process! You will learn to set better goals, get better at measuring performance, and get precise about improvements that help you reach these outcomes. But to get good at something, you have to start and then practice.


4. Develope Hypotheses

Once you set goals, it's time to determine a strategy for reaching those goals. In some cases, all it takes is monitoring something and providing a readout of it to cause metrics to improve. In the medical field, it's been observed that "implementing clinical and/or quality dashboards that provide immediate access to information for clinicians can improve adherence to quality guidelines and may help improve patient outcomes."

Just the act of measuring something can cause people to improve performance! However, you may need to make more-concerted or targeted efforts to get numbers to budge. Try to set a policy or come up with a strategy, like weekly meetings to discuss performance, or a new ad campaign targeting a specific marketing channel.

Know that, at first, your strategy will be, at best, a wild guess. That's ok! Again, the process itself is the solution. No one has the ability to improve overnight, short of some miracle, so there must be a process in place to make an attempt, measure results, analyze the outcome, and then adjust based on your findings. Over time, your approach will get more targeted and effective, making you better at the process itself.

If this process sounds familiar, by the way, that's because this is the scientific method in a nutshell.

Scientific discovery is all about guessing what might happen and then checking your guess. In terms of improving KPIs, that translates to consciously and carefully striving to be as effective as possible within that specific aspect of the business, through whatever means are available.

You will gradually learn what sorts of factors or actions affect your KPIs with increasing levels of context, complexity, and confidence. Your strategies may also change in light of factors outside of your control, like shifts in how certain cases are adjudicated. The scientific method approach allows for you to accommodate these fluctuations and stay on top of your firm's own performance numbers, putting you in a greater position of control even amidst sudden disruptions.

5. Set Roles and Regular Meeting Times

Commitment and accountability are two major factors sorely missing from many continuous improvement initiatives. Make sure someone has ownership over measuring and tracking performance. Someone else may have ownership over ensuring that hypothetical improvements are taking place as expected.

These roles can be filled by multiple partners or a single partner, or it can be delegated to someone like a finance or marketing director. No matter who takes on the role, make sure they have the keys to success:

  • Full access to the needed information. If they don't have access to needed data, like actual billing revenues, they will be unable to do their job.
  • Actual authority to at very least fully monitor performance. People placed in charge of strategic changes also need the authority to authorize and implement actual changes.
  • Full support from the leadership team. Make sure everyone is aligned on purpose, goals, and approach. Any deviations will not only undercut effectiveness but hamstring the entire process, in many cases.

Also, importantly set aside time to check in with progress and modify strategy. All senior leaders should be in on these meetings. Yes, you're busy. Everyone is busy! But failing to commit to focusing attention on these initiatives means they are doomed to fail.

Schedule regular meetings, quarterly, monthly, or whenever. Remember that shorter time frames invite more room for quicker feedback and more changes. Each meeting should have a concrete agenda. Something like:

  • 1. Current goals
  • 2. Current performance/progress
  • 3. Effectiveness (to the extent that can be measured) of current improvement strategies
  • 4. Predicted trajectory given the current performance trends
  • 5. Ideas/insights for improvement from the presenting team
  • 6. Open floor for feedback/questions/ideas/etc

Above all else, "Never stop monitoring," Ambujakshan says. "Remember, facilitating ongoing discussions using dashboards is a great way to reinforce a continuous improvement culture."

Meetings between department heads are important for collaboration, buy-in, and the actual power to make change happen. Plus, everyone should be engaged. Each role or individual will have a unique perspective and unique talents to contribute. From these, new ideas spring forth.


6. Encourage Yourself to Ask "Why"

It's easy to get on a roll when engaging with a process like the one outlined here. That's a good thing! But it's also important to step back and question what you're seeing - and what you actually know.

Dig deep into the data to understand the driving forces behind it

Example: If certain attorneys have low utilization, meaning they aren't spending most of their time on revenue-generating case activities, then what is keeping them from being able to bill more hours or generate more revenue? Are administrative things standing in their way? Are they losing track of their own schedule?

Another example: What costs bring return on investment (ROI), and which ones are superfluous? It's extremely important to consider this in light of marketing, specifically. If you can cut budgets down for ineffective forms of marketing while focusing in on others that bring more leads, you're reducing costs and improving revenues at the same time.

Probing into the area of the practice allows you to create better hypotheses/strategies for improvement. You can start to see the specific ways that performance numbers aren't being met and where the biggest opportunities for improvement lie.

Also, remember that a failure to meet your goal still teaches you lots of things about your firm. Most problems aren't easy to solve, and they may require multiple strategies before things start improving. Be patient, but also be intelligent and observant when it comes to putting into words exactly what the challenge is, which will always help point the way towards more effective solutions.

7. Get Others Involved by Making Information Readily Available

Everyone in the entire firm should be aware of goals and the current progress towards those goals - potentially even non-employee contractors.

It may not be as simple as giving everyone access to the dashboard portal, as they could be overwhelmed with the information, or they could have access to sensitive data about the firm and its clients. At the same time, everyone deserves to be in the loop.

Consider all options available. Will printed-out or emailed reports help? What about a central screen displaying metrics in a centralized office somewhere?

Ensure that partners and firm leadership have access to this information and that they are contributing to the overall effort in some way. When writing about accelerating improvements through leadership, one head of a major analytics platform provider said, "I strongly encourage senior leaders to attend training sessions shoulder to shoulder with their team members. It's critical that leadership understands how deep the transformation needs to go and what organizational constructs need to change to get to the desired outcomes."

By the same token, be understanding and empathetic towards the perspective of individuals at the lower levels of the organization. They may be nervous or even resentful of monitoring, with the common fear that they will "take the blame" for poor performance and be vaguely asked to "work harder" without any specific guidance. This approach leads to burnout!

When talking about introducing analytics, many experts advise caution. "If organizations have no precedence for productivity management dashboards or scorecards, they can induce some fear and apprehension," expresses Certified Healthcare Financial Professional Betty Hintch. "However, once the entire organization is embracing the notion of this paradigm of continuous performance improvement, it ceases to be less of a policing tool. The dashboard becomes an enabler of that continuous performance improvement paradigm, and it induces a spirit of healthy competition, predicated on the awards and recognition."

Instead, of putting pressure on employees, ask them "what are your blockers?" Collaborate with them to build out a more detailed and accurate picture of what's going on at every level. Dig into the individual and team-level challenges they face, and you will start to quickly understand what improvements will have the biggest impact.

Also, give employees and associates some tangible ownership over the improvement process. This can involve incentives for improved performance, but more importantly, they should be able to contribute ideas and also self-direct their own journey towards individual improvement.


8. Get Curious

Seeing numbers improve breeds confidence, but it should never cause the firm to ease into complacency. Similarly, if targets aren't being reached even after several months, don't despair. Instead, try to dive deeper into the levers of cause-and-effect to truly appreciate what may happen when certain factors are adjusted.

In other words, chase goals with a sense of curiosity rather than obligation. This approach can encourage low-level risks to be taken in order to experiment and determine new strategies. For example, ask "what if we cut our radio budget entirely for three months?" or "what if we doubled it?"

The good news about this curiosity is that it can be sated through signals in the data. You're not taking bold risks for no reason, but generating new realms of understanding, while also exploring new possibilities for your firm.

Predictive intelligence can help encourage you in this endeavor, while also taking out a lot of the guesswork. A predictive AI can reveal things like predicted case values, and the optimal marketing channels for acquisitions and ROI, all tailored towards your firm, using your historical data.

When talking about how AI and analytics can improve business value, one platform provider notes: "The end effect of these feedback loops is that baseline data creates its own economy of value. [...] This net beneficial effect frees up teams to focus on innovations and expand the scope of what was previously thought possible."

Remembering to engage in this step - asking questions about how things are and where they are going - is vital to helping firms not just grow but transform into new versions of themselves: one's that are more specialized, more profitable, and more geared towards creating value for clients at all stages of the process.

Truve makes it easy for law firms to get started on using dashboards to improve their performance! Sign up today to receive a free demonstration showing just how easy it is to start measuring and begin improving.

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