Every practice that does any kind of volume work for one or many clients will have gone through the nightmare of drafting up complicated reports for their respective clients. The problem is that in most cases the process of drafting these reports is horribly manual and sadly, they seldom actually hit the mark!
Purpose of Reporting
From the client's point of view, they simply want an elegant mechanism of reviewing the many "matters" or "files" that they have instructed you with. A simple to read status report which will allow them not only to gauge the progress, but also to instruct you further and (hopefully) pay the outstanding account, safe in the knowledge that their money is well spent.
From your point of view this is a prime opportunity to cement your relationship with the client and to secure further work for the future. The more professional your approach to this aspect of your relationship; the easier it will be to manage the client through any potential "rough patches", where the attorney is routinely blamed for eventualities far beyond their professional control (you may lose cases that were weak to begin with; end up settling at a premium because the client never followed simple procedures or fail to collect money successfully, due to a deepening recession). The idea is that a professional approach can protect you from inevitable "downturns" and ensure that you are one of the practices that is not only able to survive tough times, but thrive by getting more of an ever shrinking pie! It is quite evident to us that in tough times, the work does not dry up. It is simply available to less attorney firms. The professional outfits who care about client service survive whilst the "fatalist" outfits perish on the back of their own unwillingness to innovate and to adapt by embracing processes and technology which set them apart from the crowd!
These are strong words but the truth of these words has been revealed to us over the years and their validity is especially self evident in tough times, as we are facing currently.
The common mistakes we see when consulting to firms who choose to upgrade to GhostPractice are:
- Lack of underlying systems
In order to effectively report to clients, you have to have the "basic building blocks" in place to start with. It is simply not efficient to do all the work manually (which takes too long in and of itself); only to then manually draw up a report reflecting just what you have done. If you have an effective matter management system which assists users in capturing what they are doing in a structured and organised manner, then it stands to reason that it will be a lot easier to produce regular and accurate reports for clients. So the benefit is that you do the work a lot faster (which benefits the client) and you are able to report accurately and regularly (which benefits the client)….if you are busy creating benefit for your clients, then you are automatically investing in the well being of your practice.
- Understanding the client's needs and engaging with the client
Often when we talk through the reporting requirements at a new GhostPractice site, we are struck by the fact that those doing the reporting do not always understand why they are drafting the reports in the first place. Quite often the reports are lacking and it quickly becomes apparent that the client has not necessarily thought through their requirements either! This conundrum can easily be solved by proactively engaging with the client. Show the client what your system is capable of producing and let this stimulate robust discussion until both parties come to an understanding of what would be useful. This is also a great opportunity to make your life easier. If you drive the conversation by showing the client what is available, your reports can be automated and you will have impressed the client with your professionalism and creativity.
- The most important reporting of all
How you present your statements and invoices to clients has a direct bearing on how quickly and how fully you will get paid. Seems obvious but many systems out there are not sufficiently flexible in the way they render accounts. Users end up working around the system they have, by attaching a "fee note advice" document to a system generated combined tax invoice/statement, which makes no sense to the client at all! With GhostPractice we have worked hard to provide multiple formats and to bring invoicing and statement procedures in line with mainstream commercial accounting systems. What is more, we have engineered the powerful building blocks necessary to automate the invoices and statements with sufficient detail - so that these most important of reports - the invoices and statements - are fully automated, detailed and accurate. Each client can be reported to in the format appropriate to their type of work, which in turn encourages payment by making the "reports" easy to read and interpret!
If the system structure is not designed correctly then automated reporting is simply not possible. When we replace legacy systems with GhostPractice, this is painfully clear as we convert the legacy data into our format. The aspects that are fairly unique to GhostPractice, which enable automated reporting are:
- Having a client structure where you can take listed or large corporate entities and link the entire subsidiary; branch or functional structure, together in a logical grouping. This means that you can pull out reports which can analyse progress on the group; or on specific entities within that group; or on specific matters which are being worked on in respect of those entities. At the very least there should be Client/Matter structure where many matters are linked to the Client accounts.
- Setting different SLA's (Service Level Agreements) or "Fee Arrangements" for different Clients; Matters or Debt Recovery Debtors. By allowing for this structure you are able to bill differently and report differently for various matters from the same client; whilst still being able to provide consolidated or summary reports.
If you observe the abovementioned factors and implement these in your business, you will be able to move from a situation where you and your staff spend countless month-end hours meticulously drafting up reports and augmenting statements/invoices with manually drafted notes, to one where you merely run off a stack of reports; check these reports and then email them to the client for review.
Remember that many firms are successfully creating reports for their clients every month, but you also have to examine how much effort is going into producing the reports. If reports are taking you and/or your staff a long time to produce then they are not automated. If they are not automated, then your underlying systems are either non-existent or not delivering as they should be.
If you would like to learn how you can benefit from Automated Reporting, by using GhostPractice effectively, feel free to call Matthew Spagnoletti on 082 568 4738 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
for an obligation free demonstration in the comfort of your own office.
Yours in Law