Thomson Reuters today announced a new legal workflow solution that it claims will enable firms to better plan, manage and execute legal matters with enhanced data and data analytics. A cloud-based system, Thomson Reuters PanoramicTM is built on TR’s Practical Law’s legal guidance platform and its 3E financial management system to better connect the front office of a law firm—where the legal work is handled—to the back office—where law firm financials are monitored and analyzed.
TR says Panoramic is specifically directed toward large and mid sized firms although it’s primary beneficiaries in my opinion may turn out to be the more innovative mid size firms (the AmLaw firms in the 100-200 range) who lack the resources and systems of some of the very large firms. As I have previously noted, it is, in fact, these mid size firms that will be most under threat in today’s changing legal marketplace. But because of their generally reduced cost structures and overhead, some of these firms, those that choose to distinguish themselves in the market, also have a big upside potential. And tools like Panoramic, if vigorously adopted (which is an if, as discussed below), could enable this capitalization.
What Does Panoramic Do?
So what does Panoramic do? It’s a comprehensive platform which provides step by step process mapping for various types of legal matters, legal guidance for completing those various steps and processes that need to be undertaken, financial tools to measure costs, realization rates and profitability by matter and task, and tools for future budget creation based on data and analysis— all at one spot and on one dashboard.
The heart of Panoramic is its dynamic Matter Maps, created and kept up to date by TR Practical Law attorney editors. According to the TR Press Release, “These Maps include the specific phases and underlying tasks needed to execute a specific legal matter, helpful not only in managing and doing the work, but also for understanding the matter and building budgets. Matter Maps in Panoramic contain a sophisticated logic system that guides users to the specific tasks relevant to the facts of their case and provides a common language between the front and back office so that a new matter is planned in a way that will drive positive results for the firm and client.” Once a matter is planned, it can be set in motion by assigning tasks to individuals, and detailed dashboards provide visibility into progress and budget.
If used rigorously, Panoramic could capture in one place all the firm’s expertise and experience
The other piece of Panoramic that is exciting and perhaps critical to making it function as intended is that it allows individual lawyers and firms (and perhaps even clients) to add to the maps and guidance platforms in ways unique to the lawyer and firms. So if used rigorously, it could serve to capture in one place all the firm’s expertise and experience with respect to a type of matter so that in the future, other lawyers in the firm could quickly grab and use that expertise and benefit from the experience. In essence, Panoramic potentially eliminates the need to reinvent the proverbial wheel problem that many firms- particularly mid size firms struggle with. This piece would be particularly valuable to those firms that have a particular expertise in an area since it allows those firms to offer unique and cost effective experience in their unique areas and compete with even the largest firms.
Another cool feature is Panoramic’s ability to create budgets for matters based not on the again proverbial wild ass guess that most mid sized firms use, but on data from past experiences the firm and its lawyers have had with the type of matter in question. As Christopher Lang of LeClairRyan, one of the TR’s design advisors on the product puts it, “For LeClairRyan, Panoramic provides a powerful tool to allow us to better understand each practice area, deliver an exceptional client product and manage it more efficiently, while also making it more profitable”.
What Problem Does It Solve?
All sounds good in theory. How well it performs of course remains to be tested in the marketplace. But TR notes that to work really effectively, the platform depends on the firm being committed to getting data and then religiously getting that data into the system. As TR’s Barb McGivern, the General Manager of TR’s Midsize Law Section, notes, Panoramic will systemize what some have already been doing in gathering best practices “but in one off projects” and silos by individual lawyers for his or her practice.
McGivern is pretty insightful here; based on my experience, this is exactly how many mid sized firms typically deal with past efforts. Everybody wants past efforts files, no one wants to create them. Why? Because they take time to do. Time that would often need to be spent at the conclusion of the matter and which is more often than not non billable. It is, in fact, the reluctance of many lawyers to spent this time at that point in a case that causes so many past efforts collection to fail.
So while TR has made that entry process really, really simple, to work as intended, Panoramic will still require a firm to be committed to this entry process and doing it on a systematic , defined and firm wide basis. The system also requires automating certain time keeping and recording tasks that will require change.
The firms that haven’t taken these steps already? They won’t be interested in Panoramic or if they get it, won’t use it to its potential.
Given that, on the surface, Panoramic presents a bit of a Catch 22 problem for TR. The really big firms (say AmLaw 50) and the more innovative mid sized firms already have systems in place that are starting to do some if not all of the functions offered by Panoramic. These firms already have been implementing processes to collect the data rich juice needed to do the things Panoramic promises for both front and back office functions. These firms have already instituted knowledge management systems to collect and use their historical experience and expertise. The firms that haven’t been taking these steps already? Well, they won’t be interested in tools like Panoramic or if they get them, won’t use them to their promised potential.
But what Panoramic promises is a more user friendly way of collecting and using front and back office data and presenting it to users. It promises to house and massage data in new, different and possibly profound ways. So those mid sized firms that have been collecting data, have initiated knowledge management systems, and recognize the need to be more cost effective, client driven and welcome change, will greatly benefit from the types of tools Panoramic promises.
Panoramic could better level the playing field on which the really big firms and mid-size firms compete.
Panoramic, again if it does what TR says is will, will better level the playing field (to use an old cliche) on which the really large firms and mid sized firms compete. With Panoramic, innovative mid size firms can offer even better pricing structures, can better capture and demonstrate their expertise and be more innovative across the board.
Mid-size firms that embrace change and innovation are already on the road of turning the challenges their size presents into opportunities to compete with the bigger players. Panoramic promises to help them.