Increasingly, businesses are turning to data to steer themselves through uncertainties, and law firms too are embracing technologies. A survey showed that 63% of polled legal leaders plan to accelerate legal tech investments in the face of high inflation rates. 1 To be future-ready, law firms are turning to composable cloud platforms like evergreen to make the most of their data.

During a webinar, Mike Giles, the CFO at Fieldfisher, had shared insights into how their move to evergreen helped them transition towards better ways of working and retire a host of legacy systems. Take a look at key insights from the discussion compiled below.

Q: What challenges did your existing systems present? What opportunities did the new system offer that prompted a shift to evergreen and the Microsoft Dynamics stack?

Insights from Mike: When we embarked on our evergreen project, we were starting with an old legacy system and had the opportunity to bring about significant change, which doesn’t happen very often. These systems tend to be in use for a long time, so making changes can be quite a challenge.

From my point of view, one of the biggest opportunities was to challenge how we do things around here. Some of our processes were vaguely defined, largely historical, and in some cases, based on old manual processes. So, we had the opportunity to start from scratch and think about how we wanted things to work, thinking beyond what had been possible in the old systems. We actually started looking at best practices, not just across law firms but across industries generally, to try and implement the best way of doing things.

Obviously, that brought about change. We spent a lot of time talking to the business about how wonderful this new system was going to be and all its capabilities, but it was also going to be different. What everyone heard was that it was a wonderful new system and a fantastic way of doing new things.

What they didn’t hear was that it was going to be different. As a result, we found some resistance to change. We had to paint the picture, the vision of what was possible, and take the users on the journey to get buy-in for that process.

Q: Can you elaborate on how these tools have helped improve processes and efficiency?

Insights from Mike: I think one of the real benefits of the Microsoft Dynamics stack is the very powerful workflow tools that now exist. These tools enable us to eliminate huge amounts of paper and the kind of scribbles on the page, the wet signatures of approvals, if you like.

Clearly, it was a change that was slow during normal business life. However, the lockdown during COVID-19 has accelerated that change. What we’ve seen is that some processes simply don’t work.

One of my favorite examples that I refer to from time to time is check signing. People can sign checks within the office, and we found a huge resistance to eliminating checks in favor of electronic banking processes. But of course, during the lockdown, we couldn’t move checks around to people’s homes. So, we’ve taken that step forward and probably accelerated that process by at least 12 months. There are similar examples where we’ve used workflows rather than pushing paper around the buildings. We’ve almost completely eliminated the orange transit envelopes that used to move paper from one department to another around the firm!

Q: What would you cite as the prime benefit of the implementation and how has it impacted your ways of working?

Insights from Mike: So, what we’re seeing is much greater efficiency. Because of the workflow processes, we’ve been much clearer in terms of defining the objectives we were trying to achieve from those specific business processes. We have deployed a Microsoft product, and it works very seamlessly with the Microsoft Office suite. That provides huge opportunities for integration as well. We at Fieldfisher, are in the midst of trying to implement Microsoft Teams, and that’s something I find particularly exciting. The opportunities for the use of Teams with Microsoft Dynamics 365 are huge, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how we might integrate with Teams over the coming months.

“Speaking of the centralized data hub benefit, when we went live with evergreen, we turned off 11 legacy software products.”

Before the current focus on data, the approach was more about finding software solutions for specific business needs. There were separate systems for HR, credit control, expense approval, and so on.

However, now the focus has shifted towards data itself, rather than the individual software programs. This aligns more closely with a centralized data hub or a single source of truth. It allows for creating data connections that were previously difficult or impossible, leading to much deeper analysis of business activities.

There’s a greater emphasis on actionable data. Previously, data was simply generated monthly. Now, dashboards are used extensively, with information updated daily. This allows finance professionals to see what’s happening in their areas and make quicker decisions. Additionally, data connections make it easier to understand the overall business picture.

Q: How has the availability of real-time data changed the way Fieldfisher approaches financial decision-making?

Insights from Mike: Interestingly, the traditional month-end closing process is being re-evaluated. With daily data availability, there’s less need to wait for the end of the month to see how the business is performing. Daily dashboards with drill-down capabilities provide this information readily, accessible to everyone from team members to top management.

In conclusion, the readily available data allows for data-driven decisions, rather than retrofitting data to justify choices that have already been made.

Q: What are some of the additional benefits Fieldfisher has experienced with the ability to analyze data more effectively? Has this improved agility?

Insights from Mike: In my opinion, one of the real benefits we’re seeing is the ability to go beyond just reporting what has happened in the business. Traditionally, the finance function produces monthly P&Ls or balance sheets, which is fine as far as it goes. However, it’s like driving by constantly looking in the rearview mirror.

I’m more interested in not only what has happened but also why it happened and what it means for the future. This allows us to adjust our business going forward to take advantage of opportunities. We certainly saw this during the past twelve months, where no one could have predicted the lockdowns.

Because of the availability of data, we were able to track what was really going on much more closely and adjust our businesses and performance to match the reality in our markets during the COVID-19 crisis. We believe we were much closer to what was really happening than we would have been using traditional reporting methods.

Finally, the ability to push forward faster is another key point. I’ve already mentioned the dashboards and how they’re changing the way we think about our business. But the entire Microsoft Dynamics approach within the cloud, along with regular program and software updates, is proving to be incredibly helpful.

Q: How is the team adopting to the new mode of operations?

Insights from Mike: It was a challenge at first because we weren’t used to having up to eight upgrades every year. Previously, we worked on systems where you upgraded once a year, which involved a lot of people and processes. We’d upgrade the software and then see if there was anything new we could use, followed by a process of understanding and implementing it.

However, in the Microsoft Dynamics world, upgrades happen very regularly. Now, our mindset has changed. We’re working much more closely with and Microsoft to develop the functionality we want. This means we’re more proactive, looking at the next step and what we want to achieve. There’s a huge journey ahead of us, with a lot more we can do. The scope of what’s available is truly enormous.

I increasingly realize the more we understand the system’s full capabilities, just how much more we can achieve with it. One of the biggest limitations is simply the power of my own imagination to envision what’s possible. This truly is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s brought us to a whole new world where we’re accomplishing things I never thought possible. It’s a truly exciting journey to be on, and I believe it has forever changed the way we approach finance, data, and business analytics at Fieldfisher.

Watch the full webinar here to get in-depth insights.