“My clients appreciate how our budgets and work plans reflect our strategy and give them a granular view of our approach to the engagement.”
- Marla Butler, Partner, Business Litigation & Intellectual Property
A well-designed budget should be more than a financial estimate. At Thompson Hine, a budget monetizes a work plan that sets priorities, reflects strategy and anticipates staffing. Creating a budget while we are still in the planning phase allows us to discuss with our client the strategy for the engagement and explain our assumptions. Having a detailed work plan at the outset focuses attention on the choices that underlie our approach to the engagement and their expected cost. As the engagement’s predicted path changes (and it will), we can look back to the budget and work plan to quickly identify and make reasonable adjustments as needed.
How did we get here? In early 2014 we set out to build a tool to simplify the process of creating, estimating and revising a budget and work plan and presenting that budget proposal to our client. Our lawyers, IT and LPM specialists, and Chief Practice Innovation Officer collaborated to create our proprietary budgeting tool. It draws on the collective knowledge gained from past engagements to ask questions about various aspects of the matter, allowing the lawyer to adjust standard budget elements for maximum customization. The tool performs all calculations to eliminate potential arithmetic errors.
The lawyer can generate a new budget using a firm-designed template or an existing budget, reducing the time necessary to develop a budget and work plan from days to hours in some cases. Our extensive and growing database of historical matter data allows the lawyer and client to explore various scenarios in real time and test the financial impact of strategy decisions and staffing options. Using our experience (or third-party data), we can project when certain expenses will be incurred during the engagement. Clients appreciate the predictability and transparency the tool provides because it helps them plan more efficiently to control costs and it eliminates unpleasant billing surprises.
Because a work plan is a living document, it is crucial that we can monitor progress in real time. Our reporting tools measure metrics such as budget-to-actual spend, percentage of completion or cycle time for aspects of the project. A dashboard enables internal supervising timekeepers to view budget performance for their matters at a glance; it has drill-down capabilities with access to budget-to-actual and milestone reporting. Matter supervisors also receive weekly monitoring reports via email that provide snapshots of matter and budget performance and alert them to potential issues so they can confer with the client and revise the plan or budget if necessary.
Virtually all of our practice groups have adopted business rules and budget mandates for at least one matter type. We constantly monitor the accuracy of budgets and continue to explore ways to expand our budgeting tool’s features and utility to maximize its benefits for an increasingly broad spectrum of clients.