Foley & Lardner LLP
Foley & Lardner LLP is a firm that maintains a clear focus on consolidating the strength of its current position while keeping one eye fixed firmly on the horizon. In that regard, it is continuously finding ways to improve its operations and service delivery to clients and adapt for the future.
A full-service firm whose practice can broadly be grouped into five main areas — intellectual property, commercial law, litigation, government advisory, and international work — it has 1,100 lawyers in offices across the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Asia. It chose to implement 3E®, the market-leading enterprise business management solution that enables firms to drive operational efficiency and growth through its advanced architecture, industry-leading security, and customizable platform.
Part of the rationale was to support the firm’s growth ambitions as it planned to extend its U.S. presence and its cross-border reach. It also wanted a robust solution that could streamline and strengthen its finance and accounting function and, looking forward, that could allow for sophisticated data analytics in the future.
Having used Enterprise® from Thomson Reuters since the mid-1990s, familiarity with — and confidence in — the solution was one consideration in the decision to select 3E. Even more importantly, 3E had the specific functionality and the scalability the firm was looking for.
One of the key issues Foley & Lardner had hoped to solve via 3E was the ability to automatically convert multiple currencies, reconcile bank statements, and produce reports instead of having to do it all manually. This aspect has been everything the firm had hoped it would be. “It has really paid dividends in that respect,” says Lisa Jessup, Chief Financial Officer at Foley & Lardner.
But her perspective was far wider. “In the finance department, we are always looking for ways to support our firm better, whether that’s through finding ways to improve important day-to-day business practices or looking out for the bigger picture,”
Phasing in functionality
3E offers such an extensive list of features and functionality that Foley & Lardner decided to take a phased approach to rolling different aspects of it out across the firm. The first priority was accounting and billing, with particular attention on issues such as streamlining the invoicing, payments, and cash recording processes.
Foley & Lardner also wanted to make e-billing more efficient, improve maintenance of client details like keeping up with complex and highly specific outside counsel billing guidelines, and facilitate client budgeting.
“Previously, we spent a lot of time on the back end of the e-billing process dealing with rejections caused by lack of adherence to client guidelines,” says Jessup. “The more we can do on the front end to ensure the invoice complies with those guidelines (even at the point of time entry) will save a lot of time, and ultimately money, by reducing the risk that the invoice might be written down. This is not just about efficiencies, it’s about real dollar costs to the firm.”
The Financial Systems team uses it to respond quickly to data requests and is using 3E to develop a web interface to allow partners to enter the solution and access data directly. These kinds of “cool tools” as Jessup describes them are a precursor to some of the innovative possibilities that Foley & Lardner is planning to explore in the next phase of its 3E rollout.
Bells and whistles
Jessup explains, “As exciting as everything is that the new system can do for us, it was important to keep a tight focus to ensure a successful initial conversion. We put all the ‘bells and whistles’ on hold.”
Now that it has successfully completed its first phase, the firm has big plans for how it will develop its use of 3E. In the near term, it intends to integrate eBillingHub® from Thomson Reuters into 3E to eliminate an interim manual step that is currently required to transfer invoices from 3E to eBillingHub, making the process even more efficient and accurate.
Jessup also plans to incorporate time entry functionality, which she believes will have several major benefits. For example, it will streamline the process and minimize billing errors up front before they get as far as the billing stage by alerting fee earners to incorrect entries. Also, the firm plans to make more use of its mobile accessibility via the mobile capabilities in 3E to allow anywhere, anytime access.
Beyond that, data analytics is a key area of focus to help drive the business forward. According to Jessup, the firm is considering incorporating other tools such as 3E Workspace and data visualization tool 3E Data Insights to “unleash the power of the 3E system.”
From a systems perspective, the way data was laid out within the structure of 3E was very attractive to Jessup and her team. It allows them to “slice and dice” the data more easily and at a more granular level but also enables them to start thinking about how they could use different aspects for data analytics in the future.
One area the firm had struggled with previously was rates and exception rates. “We liked how 3E allowed us to organize these better so we could use them more effectively,” says Jessup.
They also like the flexibility of the general ledger structure. Now the team can break different segments down so that costs can be assigned to a specific practice group, office, lawyer, type of matter, or type of expense — such as sponsorship out of marketing spend. Jessup points out that this allows the firm to capture a lot of information around a particular expense item, giving better visibility on costs.
As CFO, Jessup doesn’t directly utilize the solution in the same level of detail as her team, but one piece of functionality that she personally finds very useful in her role is the general ledger dashboard which plugs into the 3E system via Thomson Reuters’ partner, Big Hand. Designed to the firm’s preferences, this tool can pull specific data out of 3E, presenting in-depth granularity of insight in a clear, well-designed way.
“It’s nice that Thomson Reuters has partners on board that specialize in extra tools to provide even more functionality,” says Jessup.
Exceeding expectations on implementation
Having planned the strategic implementation of 3E for several years, during which time it was put on hold as Foley & Lardner completed a merger, the firm decided not to delay its go-live any longer, despite the looming threat of lockdown in early 2020.
In the end, Jessup thinks that converting to 3E remotely actually worked to the firm’s advantage. It had all the advisers and consultants it wanted on board and ready to go. In addition, extensive training, validation, and testing had been carried out with both end users and the finance team. The team from Thomson Reuters was “100% focused and ready,” according to Jessup, and offered the firm open line access to advice.
“The conversion wildly exceeded my expectations, even without the lockdown dimension,” says Jessup. “We had regular touch points with our Thomson Reuters account team to ensure things were moving forward as expected and, if not, they jumped in and took action.”
“I didn’t think we would be able to get all our bills out to meet our billing deadline at the end of the month, given that we went live on the 20th of the first full month of lockdown, but we did!”
Though it is still too soon to measure ROI, Jessup believes the firm would be at a competitive disadvantage without 3E.
“We’re already seeing the benefits of 3E and there’s a huge amount of untapped potential I’m excited to address once we’ve settled in after the initial conversion.”
The firm wanted a robust solution as it geared up for growth. The first priority was to streamline its accounting and finance function, starting with e-billing and automated multi-currency conversions. It also wanted a wide range of advanced functionality such as data analytics it could roll out in the future.
Foley & Lardner had a long-standing relationship with Thomson Reuters and, after scrutinizing other products, it realized that 3E had the scalability and the comprehensive set of features the firm required. Ultimately, it believes the solution will enable them to become a slicker, smarter operator.
- Greater efficiency and accuracy of routine processes increases client satisfaction and impacts bottom line
- Reduces manual input in critical areas, such as currency conversions
- Enhanced visibility into costs and expenses
- Advanced tools such as data analytics open up huge potential for firm development and better decision making
- Mobile accessibility allows lawyers and users to use it on the go