Aug 19, 2010

Legal Project Budgeting

I had some preconceived notions about budgeting for legal projects going into the design phase for the Onit legal budgeting set of features.

First, I believed that our primary market, corporate legal departments with $1 to $6 billion in revenue, would want their law firms to create and submit a budget. After all, that is what the Fortune 500 market wants. Second, I believed that our primary market would want detailed budgets, at least at the phase level. After all, Fortune 500 corporate legal departments want to budget at even a greater level of detail. Both of these preconceived notions were wrong. And not just a little, but 100% wrong.

For a market that does very little budgeting today, a little bit of functionality goes a long way. As a result, we will deliver life of project and annual budgeting capabilities and skip the detail for now. Budgets, while they can be informed by law firm input, will really be created by the corporation. It is clear the general counsel in these companies rely much more on the expertise and opinion of their own employees about project costs than they do their vendors.

We have learned a couple of other things that would be more helpful than more detail. In addition to providing budget to actual comparisons, we will also be trying to extract some meta data about the invoice and the project at the time of invoice submission by the law firm and invoice approval by the inside project owner. Specifically, knowing what your spend is compared to your budget is not that meaningful unless you also know where your project is compared to its estimated completion. For instance, knowing that you are at 50% in a project is enhanced by the knowledge that you are 67% through with the legal work on the project. Your budget to actual comparison is now informed in a very meaningful way.

So in addition to collecting an invoice, we will also want to know whether there is a new estimate for project completion costs or date. These are relatively simple things to collect in our model with value that far exceeds the cost to collect.


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