Use Business Intelligence for Law Firm Stability and Growth

Post sponsored by Smokeball and written by Josh Taylor, Esq, Account Manager

A question that inevitably arises whenever there is discussion regarding Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other “health measurements” within small law firms is “what should I be numerically tracking?”  While the billable hour will likely still rule in litigation-heavy practices, there are other factors that can be considered.  The following financial metrics are terrific health indicators for transactional and corporate firms, but lend superb data tracking ideas to almost every type of law practice:

  • Dormant Client Percentage: the ratio of the number of clients that the firm has not had a new project from in a certain period of time (TBD by the firm) to the entire client base
  • Growth in Top Clients: ratio of fees billed to top X clients (number can be adjusted to size of firm) in the past year to the fees billed to the top X clients in the year before that (are my best clients coming to me more and more as time goes on)
  • Basic Profitability per Matter/Transaction: Flat fee for transaction minus (Hours spent x staff cost per hour)
  • Client Retention: ratio of number of clients billed in the last year to the same clients that had been billed in the year before (can really start the conversation of why people are or aren’t coming back to the firm for more transactional work time after time)
  • Number of Matters Opened: compare year to year or month to month
  • *Client-facing KPI* Value Added for Client: Increase in client profits minus cost of legal services provided by your firm (why would a client come back if what you do doesn’t ever help them do better??)

Besides financial health indicators, KPIs should certainly revolve around ensuring staff is happy and healthy as well.  Workload is important to consider, but “how do I know my staff can or cannot handle more?”  Certainly, you will need something that tracks all activities and all worked hours.  Some case management software and billing technologies are terrific at this.  The resulting reports should indicate, for individual employees, things like hours worked per week and number of files being handled, and this should prompt a conversation about these things with staff members.  The ultimate goal must be to come up with KPIs together that make sense and to ensure the employee feels what they take on is noticed and appreciated.

Another good metric is seeing how quickly clients are responded to by staff in a meaningful way.  If staff is unable to do this well and clients wait long periods of time for responses, there may be an issue of having too much on a particular staff member’s plate (i.e., when the product the client gets suffers, you may be asking a good employee to try handling too much).

Finally, other concrete metrics could revolve around billing clients.  Realization Rate and what causes this rate to drop is important.  Are you writing off time because the wrong person is doing it?  Are you billing inconsistently with client guidelines? Are multiple people billing for the same task?  A KPI here could be to strive for a certain average realization rate, such as bumping a 65% rate to 75% in the next fiscal year.

Interested in learning more? Hear Josh talk about KPIs and business intelligence in the How To… program from 9/12/2017


How many days do I have again?

It’s hard to calculate how many days are between a certain day and another, especially if they are far apart. If your deadline to file a motion is 60 days before your hearing date on October 12th, 2015, what date is that? Luckily, there are several ways to determine that calculation. We’re going to cover Excel, Outlook, and a web tool called

If you frequently need to keep track of court calendar deadlines, services like (formerly Deadlines on Demand) or Juralaw (if you practice in Illinois) can keep the dates straight for a price. There are several ways to count how many days for free, however, and best of all you can use these tricks for all your deadlines—not just court specific ones.


The first is with Excel. In cell A1 type the date of your hearing: 10/12/2015. In cell B1 type “=A1-60” and hit enter. Excel will calculate the date automatically, changing the cell contents to say “8/13/2015.” If the date of your hearing changes, replace the date in cell A1 and the date of your filing deadline will automatically change with it.

excel screenshot


To find out if that date falls on a weekend, click cell B1, go to the cell formatting drop down menu under the Home tab and select “Long Date.”

long date excel spreadsheet


The cell data will change to tell you what day of the week 8/13/2015 is. In this example it is Thursday, but if it were on a weekend you could adjust your deadline as needed.

If you don’t have Excel handy, you can also add or subtract a date on the web. has several different calendaring calculators. Use their date calculator to add or subtract from a date. Still using the example of 60 days until your hearing date on 10/12/2015, enter 10/12/2015 as your start date. Select “(-) Subtract” from the dropdown menu, and enter “60” under “Days.”


Press “Calculate new date.” The result will be “Thursday, August 13, 2015.” also features calculators to determine the number of days between two dates, time duration between exact times and finding the week number of any date.

Finally, there’s Outlook.

Enter the October 12, 2015 hearing for your client on your calendar. After the appointment is on your schedule, bring up the Go To Date box by right clicking the date (or typing Ctrl – G if you’re a keyboard shortcuts person).

hearing for my client

In the box that appears, place your cursor before the date and type “60 days before”

60 days before

Press OK, and you will be brought to August 13, 2015, where you can now enter a new event for your motion filing deadline. You can also find out dates in the future by typing “x days after.”

CBA Future of the Law Week is Coming 2/17-2/20

The Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section and Law Practice & Technology and The Chicago Bar Foundation are excited to invite you to attend the Future of the Law Week events. Every day we will present a new cutting edge topic on how to practice like Steve Austin (better…stronger…faster). We’ll also have a Future Fair where you can meet organizations and companies that are helping lawyers respond to client’s needs while investing in their own. Plus a reception to kick it off and lunch for the finale!

Week at a Glance:

To get all the details see our Chicago Bar Association Future of the Law Week Guide. Hope to see you there!

Asana vs. Trello: Checklist Collaboration Tools Compared

My new article in Attorney at Work: Asana vs. Trello: Checklist Collaboration Tools Compared

In his book The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande asserts that checklists are a “cognitive net,” a mechanism that can help prevent experienced people from making errors due to flawed memory and attention, and ensure that teams work together. Or, as Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame put it, “the book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes.”

In a law office, checklists help reduce errors and increase efficiency. They ensure that work is done, and in an order that makes the most sense. They can also be used as part of a task management system, showing each person in the organization how her responsibilities on the checklist affect the entire procedure. Two collaboration tools that specifically focus on lists and tasks were recently launched online. One, Asana, created by former Facebook employees, provides a web-based “to do” list for up to 30 people to share. The other, Trello, lets users create shared boards with task cards. Both are free.

So which one is better for task and project management based on procedural checklists? Let’s compare.

Upcoming LPMT Programs and Training

Don’t miss upcoming CLE programs and free training sessions:

Coming up in August:

  • How to… Take Control of Social Media with Hootsuite
  • How Lawyers Can Use Collaboration Tools

Coming up in September:

  • How to… Use MS OneNote for Project Management
  • How to… Automate Functions in MS Word
  • Smarter, Better, Faster: Document Assembly

Coming up in October:

  • How to…  Get the Most Out of LinkedIn
  • How to…  Manage Complex Tasks in Basecamp
  • How to…  Use MS Outlook Add-ons
  • Intersection of Ethics and Technology

PLUS Law Firm Startup Bootcamp on Oct. 4 – everything you need to know to start (or update) your law firm!

Register online at the Chicago Bar Association – CLE - CLE Seminars  and check the LPMT “Upcoming Programs” calendar for program descriptions, dates and times.