Data-Driven Decision-Making and Case Management: How Law Firms Can Make Clients Happier
Happy clients are the best. They spread the word. They refer. They leave glowing reviews. They represent success and open the door to growth for your law firm. But isn’t the old statistic about pleasing all of the people all of the time still true? You can’t do it, right?
With data-driven decision-making, making clients happier is a conceivable goal. We can already hear the naysayers: “Some clients are just difficult! Some cases take unpredictable turns! Some insurers/judges/juries just aren’t fair!” That’s true, but what if data-driven decision-making can render all that irrelevant?
Prerequisites to Data-Driven Decision-Making: Data + Analytics
For any datadecision-making process to work, two things are absolute necessities.
#1: Data-driven decision-making depends on data.
You obviously can’t make data-driven decisions without data. Firms produce mountains of data, and if used properly, it can positively affect almost every aspect of the firm. For this to work, your law firm must be willing and able to collect as much of its data as possible. Whether your case management software handles that, like GrowPath does, or you compile it within some other software, no data is the end.
#2: Data-driven decision-making depends on data analysis.
Again, your case management software may have this capability. It’s baked into GrowPath for a reason. Regardless, your data isn’t going to help you much if you cannot sift, sort, search, analyze, spot trends, and draw conclusions.
The Library: An Analogy
Here’s one way to explain how and why these things are important. Imagine you are the physical Library of Congress, but there were no books, publications, records, and so on. Is it still a library? And even if it had all of that data, what if all the information were simply in a giant pile in the middle of the room? Is that a library?
No. A library is a place where you can find and use data.
Is your law firm a library? Or an empty building, if you’re not collecting data? Or a building with a pile of books in it if you’re unable to analyze your data? In either case, don’t worry. Metaphorically speaking, GrowPath can help you be that library. After all, the foundation of data-driven decision-making is to gather data and analyze it.
4 Steps to Happier Clients Through Data-Driven Decisions
Once you have the data and the tools necessary to analyze it, you can add those tools to the ones your firm is built on – effective law practice, marketing and communication, and business strategy. Think of data-driven decision-making as a force multiplier. It’s a way to make the sum of all your law firm’s parts much greater, and in turn, make clients happier.
The benefits of data-driven decision-making are mostly obvious. You can:
- improve operational efficiency
- answer critical questions about the direction of the firm
- enhance the customer experience
- identify new business opportunities
- seek better business outcomes
Step 1: Analyze Your Data (and Look for What’s Missing)
Informed decisions depend on data quality and relevance. If you don’t have enough data, the decisions aren’t all that informed. Whether you’re making strategic decisions, setting business goals, doing market research, or simply working to improve organizational efficiency, pay attention to what your data is missing as well as what it has.
Put another way, if you ever think, “I wish we knew more about this,” or, “If we had data about that, the decision would be simple,” more data is needed. The trick is usually finding a way to collect it.
Data Dead Zones and How to Fill Them
Here are a few ways to spot – and sometimes fill in – dead zones in your data:
- use client satisfaction surveys (customer surveys are a great data point)
- pay attention to the questions that come up as you analyze your data
- read your client reviews (and read between the lines)
- explore the tools in your case management software
- always ask, “Why?”
Believe it or not, all of these things serve two purposes. First, they fill a gap in your useful data. Second, they may indicate blind spots in your law firm’s day-to-day business that could help improve the client experience (which makes them happier).
Example Benefits of More Complete Data: SlowPoke Insurance, Inc.
Let’s say you’re looking at your case flow and timelines, and you notice that, compared to last year, some cases are taking a lot longer. The “why” isn’t in the data. Through some thorough sleuthing, you discover that most of the cases that are taking longer than they should are with one major insurance carrier – SlowPoke Insurance, Inc. Making the insurance carrier information a data point will enable you to leverage that knowledge in the future.
- At intake, when you gather a potential client’s information, you can show off your knowledge by letting them know that, according to your firm’s data, the responsible carrier is generally very slow to respond and your firm works extra hard to hold them accountable. You’ve just increased your value to the client and leveled their expectations at the same time!
- If SlowPoke Insurance isn’t timely, you can make it clear that you’ve recognized the habit in data, and you’ll use that information and their needless delay tactics against them.
- If they suddenly move quickly on a case, you’ll have a red flag to look more closely – why would they break their routine?
How you leverage the data is up to you. You’ll discover a lot of unexpected ways your new insights help you.
Analyzing Data: Tools of the Trade
If your case management software does not include tools with which to analyze the mountains of collected data from your law firm, you need to find something that does. The actionable insights you need to make informed business decisions require a way to sift through the data to find what’s important.
In reality, data-driven decision-making is actually insight-driven decision-making. You need to be able to query your database, search it, visualize it, and find those insights.
Happier Clients Because…
You know what’s going on. Nothing looks as bad on a law firm as a lack of self-awareness. Clients will be thrilled that you know what’s going on with your firm, their case, their insurer, and so on. Data can help you set realistic expectations – under promise and overdeliver based on data. And, as always, part of the reason clients hire a lawyer is to offload the stress, not trade it for anxiety.
Step 2: Locate Your Law Firm’s Blind Spots and Address Them
Before you take any steps forward, you have to stop taking them backward. Your law firm’s data can indicate areas where you can improve, including ways you may not even realize are lagging. The more data you have and the better you can analyze it, the more you can eliminate the trouble spots.
You can come at this in several ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Ask clients about their pain points with client satisfaction surveys (their second time on a list)
- Look for bottlenecks in case flow (as with SlowPoke Insurance above)
- Map out case and client timelines and look for dead zones
- Break down marketing efforts and find out what’s working and what’s not
- Analyze intakes and compare the cases you’re getting to the cases you want
As a callback to step one, blind spots and data voids are likely to be linked. These are separate steps because one begins with your data, and the other, optimally, ends with it.
Example Benefits of Blind Spot Analysis: Marketing or Burning Money?
According to your firm’s data, you’re tried-and-true marketing plan isn’t producing calls like it used to. The data show that your TV ads are about half as effective as they were a year ago. That’s quite a drop! Diving deeper, you may find that competitors have flooded TV, and more of your intakes are coming from your online ads.
This is an oversimplified example, but habit does set in for many law firms. Doing what you’ve always done – even if it has always worked – may not be the right move. Without harnessing data from marketing initiatives and intakes, you’re creating a massive blind spot into which you can shovel money like coal. It’s something that business leaders avoid, but somehow law firms do it with frustrating regularity. “If you spend it, they will come,” isn’t a marketing plan derived from data-driven insights, and it certainly doesn’t reflect data-driven decision-making.
Example: Law Firms Have Fewer Blind Spots With Data
Employee productivity is a common blind spot for law firms, especially those that manage by eyeballs. Cognitive bias, anyone? Walking around the office and seeing people at computers typing is still common practice, especially in smaller firms, and it’s shockingly inaccurate. It’s also a reason firms cite for not wanting to enable or accept remote work.
In other words, there are two mistakes being made that data-driven decision-making could solve.
Benefit #1: Productivity Revealed
A firm with a data-driven culture wouldn’t be hamstrung like this. First, when you have systems in place to collect data on employee productivity, you can make a truly data-driven decision when the time comes for a review. You can spot people who are working most efficiently and find out what or how they’re doing it to implement their processes elsewhere, if possible. And, of course, you can spot those who are skating.
And when you can show a lawyer or a paralegal a data analysis of their key performance indicators, like case loads and progress through the funnel as compared to a colleague, they also have an insight. Are they average? Above average? Or lagging? Data-driven decision-making may be most important in staffing because it’s also a source of possible liability.
Benefit #2: Open the Talent Pool
When you can measure productivity through software, as GrowPath does, it makes no difference where an employee does the work. Sure, there will always need to be people in an office and lawyers will need to be on-site at least some of the time. But when you can measure productivity anywhere, you can hire from anywhere.
Data-driven decision-making could enable you to find exceptional candidates who can do excellent work, but live far away. There are myriad studies on the benefits of remote work. Enabling and allowing it in your firm is a firm-level choice. With data-driven decision-making, you can find out what works best for your firm.
Happier Clients Because…
They’re not getting lost in the shuffle, frustrated by the process, or waiting for information. If you’ve got a blind spot, so do they – never a good thing. Clients are happiest when they know what’s happening, and if nothing is happening, why. They don’t need to interact with a stressed-out paralegal or lawyer. They want optimized, regular, clear, and positive communication.
Step 3: Assess Your Firm’s Strategy and Enhance Planning
The data-driven decision-making process can enable firms to change course, or even find one if they’re lacking. A great many general practitioners of law take the jack-of-all-trades route in an industry that seems to reward practices that focus on a particular area of law. Your firm’s direction should be a data-driven decision, not a gut feeling – consider it a form of risk management. Some may think they smell a profit in some new practice area, but there may be customer data that conflicts with that intuition.
All informed decisions, by definition, are data-driven decisions. Simple, easy-to-find data points like year-over-year profit margins do help, but dig deeper. Are cases from one particular practice area more plentiful or profitable?
Example Data-Driven Decision-making: Pandemic Panic
Here’s a very good and detailed example of a simple firm strategic decision that data and data-driven decisions fundamentally enabled: pandemic response. Having data and being able to recognize what needed to be done, what couldn’t be done, and how to react made data-driven firms a lot of money during the pandemic.
Think about it: Firms with the necessary data collection and analysis tools were able to send employees home to work. This wasn’t about the talent pool or an employment benefit. This was an existential crisis averted because of the firms’ ability to collect and analyze data.
GrowPath helped many firms do just that. So, think back to when COVID started, and everyone was sent home. What did you do? What would you do differently if it happened again? What data would you need? Imagine your firm was able to collect the necessary data and monitor productivity accurately:
- You could allow current employees to work from home, either full-time or part-time. Data gathering and data analytics tell you whether they’re working (or not).
- You could keep cases moving as much as possible. Insurers, medical care, and courts might slow or be more chaotic than usual, but you can bring some order to it. And clients will thank you.
- You could increase your client intakes versus firms that simply had to close. People are still going to be hurt, pandemic or no. If other firms can’t pick up the phone (or work the case), the firm that does (and can) will sign it.
No one wants another pandemic, obviously, but are you prepared for one?
Resource Allocation and Efficient Decisions
Part of every firm’s strategy is resource allocation. How many attorneys and paralegals do you need, and how should they spend their time? How much office space do you need? Do you have a core profit practice that you’re looking to supplement or perhaps open something entirely new? Are you referring out a lot of class action cases when you might have the staff necessary to take on that litigation in-house?
Ask “What if?” and Let Data Answer
If you look at your data, the path ahead may be much clearer than you think. The point of data-driven decision-making is that it should be easier to determine the appropriate choice based on real knowledge, not guessing or trend-chasing.
- If one attorney has a knack for getting a nice result in a certain type of case, can they do more of those cases with the rest shuffled to other team members?
- If your team is remote about half the time, can you reduce overhead by having half the office space?
- If you’re getting a ton of intakes from a certain practice area, is that an opportunity you should strategically pursue?
Making informed decisions about who should do what and where is business intelligence of the highest order. If you’re managing a law firm, you want people in the position to have maximum success. A data-driven decision of who works what case is far better than a next-lawyer-up system.
Happier Clients Because…
Data-driven decision-making opens a number of doors and insulates firms in times of crisis. If your firm can continue to respond when others don’t, you win. If your firm can have happier employees, they’ll make happier clients naturally. Again, you win. And if you make data-driven decisions on what cases you’ll take and work, you’re giving your clients the best chance at a positive outcome.
Step 4: Optimizing Processes and Productivity With Data
Just a few years ago, “big data” was a watchword, uttered in the highest echelons of business – and every consulting practice from here to Mars. Regardless of its meaning, the term implied large amounts of unanalyzed data, with no real-world application in the day-to-day operation of a law firm. However, the lesson people were learning was that the more data you have, the more insights you can glean from it.
Data-driven decision-making relies on big data. The bigger the better. And from all of that data, if you are willing to ask questions and sift for answers, you can find ways to get better.
Example Data-Based Decision-Making: The Meeting No One Will Miss
Think about your core processes and firm productivity. Even the tiniest improvements are cumulative. If a data-driven insight eliminates a 30-minute weekly staff meeting with 12 attendees, you’ve just saved 6 hours of firm time a week. No one is going to miss that meeting when it’s gone.
But apply the same logic to reports, processes, and even emails. Think about the raw data you’re gathering from the day-to-day operation of your firm. There MUST be relevant data to improve processes in there somewhere. No system is too perfect to improve. How many valuable insights are hiding in there? Some examples of things firms can optimize by watching their data include:
- Which reports matter (a few) and which are a waste of time (most of them)?
- Where are the bottlenecks in workflow – are there people or processes that need changing?
- Is your staff missing or not utilizing tools that might make work move faster?
- Are there communications that can be handled more efficiently?
Happier Customers Because…
You can spend more time helping them, for a start, and are better at it. You can also help more of them as you streamline and make more time for more cases. Again, improvements may seem incredibly incremental, but they are cumulative. Many businesses, law firms included, fail to evolve even a little bit, and over time, clients come to expect more.
5 Bonus Tips for Data-Driven Decision-Making in Your Law Firm
Data-driven decision-making is a means to an end, right? Data-driven decisions lead to more efficient work which leads to happier clients and bigger profits. The four steps we’ve outlined above can help you lay the groundwork for your own data-driven decision-making process. The more relevant data you analyze, the more actionable insights your data analysis will produce and the more informed decisions you can make.
Here are five more bonus tips for data-driven decision-making:
1) Make your firm a “data culture” and ensure you promote data literacy. Gathering raw data is the first step to learning from it, so the wider the buy-in to ensure data is collected, the more data you will have for analysis later. There is no data science without data collection.
2) Ask better questions of your data. As a law firm manager, you can use your data to get a better understanding of the firm and its strengths, weaknesses, and potential. Data analysis can answer questions and inform decisions, but it’s on you to ask smart questions.
3) Invest in quality data tools. Bringing antiquated software to the table is bringing the proverbial knife to the gunfight. There are high-quality, multi-functional case management systems like GrowPath that can help you gather and analyze data. Without them, that’s a heavy lift for any firm.
4) Test key performance indicators and be ready to evolve. Measuring productivity is a surefire way to make data-driven decisions on staff and processes. Understand that you should test, learn, and evolve as you go. KPIs aren’t always constant.
5) Use AI and machine learning in your processes if possible. In other words, let the data do the work. In a data-driven decision-making process, analyzing data is the high-labor job. An AI-based tool can crunch the numbers far faster and more accurately, without any cognitive bias.
More Data, More Insights, More Happy Clients
Data-driven decision-making isn’t just technobabble (the IT version of legalese). If you can measure it, you can improve it. Data collection leads to data analysis leads to data-driven decisions that could improve every aspect of your firm.
If you’re not collecting data or don’t know how to analyze the data you have, let us know. We may be able to help you discover a whole new world of efficiency.