Autodesk, Inc. is a global leader in providing software and services for the architecture, engineering, construction, media and entertainment, and manufacturing industries.
The Autodesk corporate law department was using multiple information systems to track accruals, budget forecasts and actual legal spend. Unfortunately, these disparate systems were not integrated and therefore the department was forced to use an inefficient process to obtain the data insights it needed.
“Our process for aggregating key financial data was highly manual,” explained Charles Wainwright, Outside Counsel and Financial Manager for Autodesk’s Legal Operations Department. “We emailed each of our outside law firms every 90 days to ask them for a forward-looking billing forecast for the next quarter. It was not uncommon for some of these firms to miss the email or forget to provide the data we need, requiring a series of follow-up phone calls to either the appropriate in-house attorneys or to the billing liaison at the firms themselves.”
Once the outside counsel forecast data was received, the Autodesk legal operations team would extract data from various other reports on accruals and actual spend, then assemble the combined data into a spreadsheet for review by the in-house attorneys.
“Meanwhile, we had a matter management tool that told us what invoices had been submitted by outside counsel but we lacked a tool to pull our accruals and forecasts data into the same view,” said Wainwright. “This informal process often led to inaccurate or incomplete budget forecasts that varied quite a bit from the actual spend.”
The essential challenge that Autodesk’s law department sought to tackle was the difficulty with getting their hands around their actual legal spend at any moment in time and then having an accurate forecast for future spending.
New structure. “Our goal was to improve our internal processes with the assistance of a legal analytics tool that would deliver a new structure for us to evaluate spend, accruals, and forecasts within the same view,” said Nataly Kozanian, project manager for Autodesk’s Legal Operations Department. “We were confident that obtaining clearer visibility into this data — and the ability to modify the data based on updated reports — would help us deliver richer financial insights for the department’s management team.”
Timeliness. The legal operations team also sought to improve the timeliness of the financial data they obtained and evaluated. For example, their goal was to produce “Forecast vs. Actual” reports for outside counsel spending on a real-time basis so the in-house attorneys could better manage that spend before any significant variances began to accelerate.
Forecast accuracy. And third, they had an objective of increasing the budget forecast accuracy throughout the year. “Our CEO set out a corporate goal of landing all department budgets within two percent of their forecasts for the year,” said Kozanian. “The legal team was focused on this goal and it was clear they could benefit from the support of a legal analytics tool that would make their processes more efficient.”
Autodesk’s legal operations professionals already had a successful working relationship with HBR Consulting. When Autodesk team members mentioned to their HBR consultants that the department was looking to improve their processes around accruals, spend tracking and budget forecasts, HBR’s professionals suggested a possible technology solution.
HBR’s CounselCommand is an enterprise legal analytics solution that was developed by a team of HBR experts with decades of experience working with corporate law departments and law firms on their most pressing operational challenges. The product was created not only to help corporate law departments contain costs, but also to quickly and accurately respond to questions about their departments’ strategy and operations.
“It became clear to our legal ops team pretty quickly that CounselCommand could offer us the platform we were seeking in order to bring the various department budgeting data streams into a single view,” said Wainwright. “We decided to license the tool from HBR and acquired capacity for 45 users across both our corporate law department and corporate finance department.”
The initial implementation project for Autodesk was to create a new web form for outside counsel billing forecast data intake, to replace the previous manual process of emails, phone calls, and spreadsheets. The Autodesk legal operations team members oversaw the creation of a simple online form that all of Autodesk’s law firms are now required to submit on a quarterly basis, providing billing forecasts for the quarter ahead.
CounselCommand then ingests that data, along with various key department spending reports coming from other sources, and creates a streamlined view for the Autodesk professionals. With this new workflow and streamlined view, the Autodesk legal operations team now reviews, analyzes and cleans the submitted law firm data, and follows-up as necessary to clarify any missing details.
“This approach enables us to more efficiently obtain the data we need, on a more formalized and standardized basis,” said Wainwright. “This improved process puts us in a better position to glean data insights that empower more strategic decision-making across our department.”
Results + Benefits
Kozanian and Wainwright agree that Autodesk has achieved each of its strategic objectives with the implementation of CounselCommand:
Forecast accuracy. Since implementing CounselCommand, Autodesk’s corporate law department has seen its forecast accuracy go from landing budget within 11% of actual spend to now just under 2%, a dramatic improvement in just a couple years. “The ability to release previous period accruals, and match forecasts with actual spending and accruals, has been a huge improvement for our department,” said Kozanian.
Process efficiency. “Our new automated web form has replaced our previous manual process for collecting law firm billing forecasts, which has made this workflow much more efficient to implement and manage,” said Wainwright. This has created substantial time savings each quarter for Autodesk’s financial analysts:
- Forecasting: 50% time savings (from 16 hours to 8 hours)
- Accruals: 68% time savings (from 69 hours to 22 hours)
More effective spending. “CounselCommand enables us to move quickly into the data analysis process so we can obtain greater visibility into spending in a shorter amount of time,” said Kozanian. This improved visibility has led to more effective spending as the department is now able to allocate budget resources it didn’t know were going to be available prior to implementing the new process.
Data timeliness + accuracy. In the previous workflow, Autodesk’s corporate law department was working around an error rate of roughly 75%; that data error rate has been reduced to less than 5% in the new approach of using CounselCommand as a centralized location to view inputs from multiple systems. “The CounselCommand platform has provided us with a tool from which we can access ‘moment in time’ spend data,” said Wainwright. “This increased timeliness means that we have more accurate information from which to extrapolate budget trends and provide our law department management team with insights to help them make important strategic decisions.”
“I have worked at a number of large tech companies and this is the first time that I’ve ever been able to deploy a legal analytics solution that pulls together all of the key data fields we need to more accurately forecast legal spending,” said Kozanian. “CounselCommand has provided us with the robust tool we needed to support a more efficient workflow, obtain richer data insights and improve our legal spend management.”