Small Teams and Their Spreadsheets: Beware of the Risks

“Xakia makes my job easier with not having to run analyses through spreadsheets. It does it all for me… The detail behind it allows me to justify additional outside counsel spend, show matters that deserve more attention, or highlight legal needs that weren’t present three months ago.” - Justin Bouchard, Associate General Counsel, Calendly

Small Teams and Their Spreadsheets: Beware of the Risks


By Jodie Baker, CEO, Xakia Technologies

For many corporate legal departments, a shared spreadsheet remains the primary system for matter management. While Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can provide a low-tech, accessible way to capture basic details of your projects, there are a number of potential pitfalls inherent in this approach.

Spreadsheets are particularly prevalent among small legal departments. Xakia’s Legal Operations Health Check Benchmarking Survey asked in-house lawyers to rate their “systems to triage assignments and track how the work is allocated.” Teams of two to five rated themselves 3.1 on a ten-point scale; teams of six to 10 fared only slightly better, at 4.4.

If your legal team is using a spreadsheet to catalog work, be mindful of four major risks:

  1. Spreadsheets can be unreliable or incomplete.

Because it is not incorporated into the workflow, a spreadsheet tracking system requires lawyers and staff to stop what they are doing, open a new application and catch up. This is vulnerable to human error: People may forget to keep it updated, forget to capture all projects, or run out of time to enter their information.

Moreover, there is no failsafe for vacations, unexpected leave or departures – leaving colleagues to guess or investigate deadlines and project status.

What’s an alternative legal workspace I can use?

To minimize and reduce risk, Legal Departments are becoming digitally savvy in the way they work. They are replacing manual spreadsheets with modern matter management software that captures critical information about each project, as it is opened, in less than 60 seconds. Because this software serves as a hub connecting document management, legal intake and triage, spend management and other LegalTech applications, it is a seamless part of the Legal Department’s workflow – and visible to all.

  1. Spreadsheets make it hard to collect data consistently.

One benefit to a spreadsheet approach is, ideally, the ability to sort matters by type, business unit, attorney and so forth – then to analyze and present this information. However, it can become next to impossible to collect meaningful insight without a relevant and consistent taxonomy to classify matters.

For example, consider two trademark litigation matters: John categorizes one as “litigation,” while Jane calls another “intellectual property: general.” Because these land in different buckets when sorted, the team could fail to recognize opportunities to share knowledge and work product – or a larger trend that points to a problem with the company’s marks.

How can I automate high-volume, repetitive, manual and time-consuming tasks?

Matter management software helps legal counsel eliminate guesswork and inconsistency by standardizing data entry. Legal Departments also realize productivity efficiencies by creating templates for frequent or reoccurring projects. Lawyers and staff save time and money by removing the need to review multiple spreadsheet buckets.

  1. Spreadsheets make reporting tedious.

On that note, any reports done using spreadsheet data must be manually assembled. Again, any task not incorporated into the standard workflow runs the risk of being done either poorly or not at all; reports certainly fall into this trap.

Moreover, most spreadsheets do not capture enough information to prompt meaningful discussion with business units or the C-suite. A static list of matters does not show legal team performance or help the Legal Department convey its value managing risk and advancing strategy. 

What if you had clear, reliable data at your fingertips?

By using legal matter management technology, your data can be sorted and visualized in real-time. Whether you need to dive into the detail or provide a high-level overview, with a click you can generate metrics and reports you need to demonstrate value and measure performance with your stakeholders.

  1. Spreadsheets keep you in a reactive position.

A spreadsheet is a to-do list (or a recap of one). It cannot help you answer the questions imperative to the success of your legal operations: Are we dedicating the right resources to our most important matters (and our least important matters)? What business units generate the most routine work – or the most risk? What is the capacity of the Legal Department? What patterns and trends may govern our budget and workload in the next quarter?

How can Legal Departments make more strategic decisions?

Because modern matter management is powered by quality data, real-time analytics and interactive dashboards, it can provide true visibility and transparency into the Legal Department’s operations. It empowers corporate in-house Legal Departments to make factual, data-driven decisions on a range of operational activities such as the resourcing of legal work, turnaround times, legal spend, and more.

Are you ready to be liberated from spreadsheets with a new way of working? A better way awaits.


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