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Why Can’t I Get the Report I Need?

Why can’t I get the report I need? This is a question asked by legal financial professionals every day. Your firm spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) on a Law Firm Practice Management system; now you can’t get what you need out of it because your system does not include the reports or tools to get at the data.

The truth: reporting is difficult. There is no way a software vendor can anticipate all the ways your law firm might want to look at data so “standard reports” tend to focus on operational measures such as Cash Deposits, Invoices Billed and Time Recorded. Sound familiar? Further, reporting off a transactional database with millions of records creates a major system performance challenge. Users do not want to sit around watching a wheel spin while the server churns through tons of data to spit out what seems like a simple answer.

In most cases if you want a more advanced report that will give you information to manage your business, think Realization, Utilization, and WIP to Cash, you will need your internal development staff to write a custom report (do you have internal development staff?) or you will need to hire a consultant to write the report. This can be a pricey and time-consuming endeavor and oh, by the way, the Managing Partner wants to see the report tomorrow and wants it automatically emailed every Monday morning. Ugh. This is not going to happen. Of course, you could export several sets of data into Excel, execute the perfect VLookup, and then format the result…

Let’s tackle these challenges one by one.

System Performance:  Based on review of several 150 timekeeper databases, here is the average number of database records for some of the primary tables used for reporting:

· 30,000 client records

· 115,000 matter records

· 6,000,000 time entry records

· 3,000,000 disbursement entry records

· 700,000 bill records

· 700,000 payment records

Today’s servers are fast, but this is a lot of data for a reporting tool to sort through and calculate the totals you want on the report.

The way to combat reporting performance is to build summary tables. This can take the form of DataMarts, a Datawarehouse or Cubes. The difference between these formats is not important for this discussion. The important concept is these summary tables calculate all the reporting information you need through nightly updates. Your servers do the work while you sleep, so you won’t be waiting forever watching your reports generate.

You might say you don’t like summary data because it does not have the most up to date information. This is true, but is your managing partner really worried about the bill that was processed this morning or does he/she want to look at overall firm performance and trends?

The next article will address additional advantages of summary data and what you can do once you have access to it.

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