Firm Central, the Thomson Reuters cloud-based practice management platform, recently rolled out a new reporting module, replacing its former reporting feature with more robust features and a wider array of user options.
In addition, Firm Central has introduced a number of improvements in recent months to its time and billing functions and across various other functions within the platform.
Recently, I met in a WebEx with the Firm Central product team for an overview of recent updates. On the call were Dhananjay Nagalkar, vice president for product management; Laura Zastrow, Firm Central’s product manager; Benjamin Head, product specialist team lead; and Jamie Reimann, product developer responsible for the new reporting module
The reporting module, released to customers April 30, adds a “Reports” tab to the main Firm Central dashboard. A central feature of the new module is a visual dashboard that shows key metrics about a law firm’s financial performance. Various charts and graphs show information about revenue, work in progress, billing and collections, as well as more detailed information, such as revenue by client and by practice area.
Firms can quickly see their top clients by revenue and their revenue broken down by practice area. By hovering over any item in a chart, the user can see more detailed data. By clicking on a chart, the user can maximize it for a larger view.
The new module also enhances a firm’s ability to generate financial reports. The module provides more detailed descriptions of each report and now allows users to view and customize reports within Firm Central before exporting them. Users can add or hide columns in reports, filter report data (such as by user or date range), and format the appearance of the report.
The default range for reports is one month, but reports can cover a range of up to 365 days. Firm Central’s product team says that expanding that range beyond 365 days is a top priority for development this year.
Previously, Firm Central did not allow users to preview and edit reports — they could only view them by exporting a CSV file. Now, in addition to the preview and format functions described above, the module allows users to output reports in any of seven formats: PDF, XLSX, XLS, CSV, XML, DOCX and PPTX. Ten reports are available:
- Accounts receivable.
- Collection realization by matter or client.
- Collection realization by user.
- Expense by matter.
- Time by client.
- Time by matter.
- Time by user.
- Trust and retainer account details.
- Trust and retainer account balances.
- Write offs.
On the roadmap for future enhancements for the reporting module is the ability to customize the dashboard, so that users will be able to both rearrange the visual modules (as they can now do on the Firm Central home page) and add custom KPIs to be tracked through the dashboard.
Firm Central also plans to add more financial reports, allow users to save customized reports as a template to generate future reports, and add more reports to Firm Central’s Canada and UK versions.
Enhancements to T&B
In 2016, Firm Central introduced integrated time and billing and has been steadily making improvements to this feature ever since. Recent enhancements to T&B include:
- The ability to associate multiple trust and retainer accounts with a matter — up to five per matter.
- A new “Billing” tab on the client profile that shows a summary of all billing for that client.
- A new “Time and Expense” tab on each matter, showing all time and expenses for that matter and their billing status.
- A wider selection of task codes for billing time, including ABA M&A, LOC patent, and LOC trademark codes.
- Display on the timesheet of total value of work.
- Credit card processing through an integration with Client Pay, which allows clients to pay invoices online. This requires a separate Client Pay account. Payments made in Client Pay can be automatically applied to invoices in Firm Central. The product roadmap calls for further streamlining this integration.
- Alternatives for billing flat-fee matters. Instead of billing flat fees in a single invoice, firms can bill the fee over several invoices or can bill expenses before billing the flat fee.
- Enhancements to the pre-bill list and Invoices, such as being able to delete entries while editing, receiving warnings about unbilled transactions omitted from invoices, and the ability to show the lead attorney on all T&B lists for easier filtering.
- An improved workflow that automatically saves time entries in five-minute increments if time tracking is interrupted.
On the roadmap for future improvements to T&B are better management of inactive time and a better interface for managing firm rates vs. matter rates.
In addition to the reporting module and enhancements to T&B, Firm Central has introduced various other upgrades across its platform. Among them:
- Integration with FindLaw Prospect Manager, a lead-generation and client-intake program. When a firm converts a prospect to a client, it can import key information about the client from Prospect Manager into Firm Central. Then, from the client’s Firm Central profile, a user can click a button to see the full client detail in Prospect Manager.
- Improvements to the global calendar, including color-coding of events and an agenda view of upcoming appointments and events. The agenda view is prospective, but a forthcoming change will enable a matter-level agenda view of everything for a matter, whether it happened already or is scheduled for the future.
- More system warnings to avoid inadvertent deletions of events or notes or other user errors.
- In the mobile version, click to call and document search have been added.
- Notifications by email. Until now, notifications were delivered to users within the platform. Because many users wanted to receive these by email, that feature is being added this month and will be available in early July. Users will be able to set the frequency of these emails.
In development for release later this year is a user calendar. Currently, items cannot be added to the calendar unless they are associated with a matter. Users wanted to the ability to add events that are not associated with a matter, such as a lunch appointment or speaking engagement. The new calendar will allow that.
Disadvantage: Legacy Customers
Unfortunately for some customers, the reporting and T&B enhancements I’ve described in this post are not available to them. Through an odd and irksome circumstance, legacy customers who subscribed to Firm Central prior to January 2016 are blocked from its integrated time and billing function, and therefore also from its reporting function.
As I explained in 2016 when Firm Central introduced integrated T&B, Firm Central launched in 2013 with no T&B function. Instead, it offered that functionality through through a third-party application, eBillity. That required a separate $25 a month subscription, in addition to the Firm Central subscription, and users to jump back and forth between the two applications.
When it launched integrated T&B in January 2016, Thomson Reuters’ contractual commitments to eBillity allowed it to offer the integrated T&B only to customers who subscribed after that date. Legacy customers were and still are cut out of integrated time and billing, reporting, and the ability to invoice through its client portal. Those customers do not even see these tabs within their version of the application.
This creates the anomalous situation in which Firm Central’s original and most-loyal customers are effectively penalized for being early adopters. They are denied the convenience and functionality of an integrated platform. I, for one, hope Thomson Reuters will act to change this situation soon.
The Bottom Line
Setting aside the legacy issue, Thomson Reuters continues to invest in enhancing and building out the feature set for Firm Central. The team I met with said that additional enhancements will be announced later this year and that they are moving aggressively to further develop and round out the product.
The practice management market is highly competitive. For Firm Central, a key selling point has always been its ability to integrate fairly seamlessly with Westlaw and other TR products such as Form Builder, Practical Law and Drafting Assistant. Pricing plans range from $40 to $105 per user per month.