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Very often one of the least-examined needs in choosing a practice management program is how well it can report the data that is stored within its database. Since all practice management programs are databases wrapped in business logic with various forms and calendars to display that data, many firms forget that someone within the firm, whether it be an attorney, paralegal, partner or the management team itself, will need to pull out the data stored in that database to help plan the future of the firm.

Some practice management programs come with a variety of "canned" reports that are defined with parameters that can make them very flexible (if you want to report on what those reports offer - any customization of the program itself may come at an additional cost of having the company that sells the practice management program write new, customized reports just for your firm. Other practice management programs offer a function that allows users of their program to create a list view of the data and then export the data into a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, and then Excel becomes your reporting tool. 

Finally, some practice management programs offer the ability to use third-party reporting tools, such as Microsoft SQL Reporting Services (ideally for practice management programs using SQL Server as their database), or BIRT or Crystal Reports. All of the above offer enhanced reporting tools, including the ability to schedule reports for delivery, access them from a web page and deliver the data in chart, as well as a list format. Your choice depends on  your firm's needs. Make the effort to list the reports you need to make the best business decisions, as well as the reports you want to have to help you manage your day-to-day workflows.

When it comes to evaluating the reporting needs based on your practice management system, hopefully those considerations were made before the practice management system was selected. If not, you may be stuck with the options the software offers, especially if your data is hosted in a cloud-based practice management system, where access to the data is confined to options within the program.

If you haven't selected your practice management program, or you are looking to replace your current system, or if you have just decided that you need to get more out of the data you have stored in your current system, and want to know if it is possible, then follow these steps:

1.  Decide what each report should look like (mock it up on a piece of paper, identifying what data should appear where, including such calculations as totals, averages, etc...)

2.  Decide what parameters (if any) a report should have - in other words, should the report offer options as to which records would appear in it (date range, area of law, staff, etc...)

3.  Decide who (staff, attorneys, partners, management team) should be able to see/have access to the report.

4.  Decide on what basis the reports will need to be generated (daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/annually/on demand)

If you think through all of the above, you should have a thorough understanding of what your firm's reporting needs are, as well as how important to the firm those needs will be (important when deciding how much to invest to get them created, if they don't already exist.)


So You Don’t Know “BIRT” about HoudiniEsq Reporting?

(First in a series…)

One of the many great strengths about HoudiniEsq is that it links to a very popular and robust reporting tool known as BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tool), which allows users to define a powerful and varied set of reports, based on the data stored in HoudiniEsq. If you have heard of Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, Jasper Reports, or Crystal Reporting, then you are familiar with the power and concept of BIRT. One of BIRT's many reasons for its popularity is that it is an open-source (free to use) product, unlike some of the others above, which either require a large investment in another product or license fees for each user who wants to design a report. The problem for most users of HoudiniEsq is that they are unfamiliar with BIRT, and/or have no idea as to what can be done by using BIRT. This discussion will explore the possibilities.

First of all, BIRT can create both reports that display lists and those that include charts, so if a firm wants to see the amount of income each practice area generates as a percentage of the overall firm income that information can be displayed in either a numbers or a pie format. BIRT report formats also include crosstabs, as well as documents and computer reports (which include summary reports- those that include a verbose explanation of the accompanying lists, charts and crosstabs.

Here is a sample BIRT report including a logo, chart and list data:

Sample BIRT report

One of the features offered in the commercial (paid-for, not open source) version of BIRT is the ability to schedule when reports are “delivered.” This feature automates the creation and delivery of specified reports, such that reports that would have to be manually created automatically are created and delivered (often via email) to those that need them. With the open source version of BIRT, a user can create similar functionality using the Windows Task scheduler. And although I haven’t tried it yet, a utility found on the Mac (CronTab - found in Terminal mode) should be able to be used to do the same thing for Mac users. Another (BIG) feature of BIRT reports is that they can include business logic (provided by its JavaScript support in creating customized data.)

BIRT reports also allow the use of parameters – which means that a single report can be created such that specific criteria can be inputted each time and the report yields different results. The parameters are created by the report designer and shared with HoudiniEsq as part of the initial report setup. Examples of standard parameters are date ranges, types of matters, specific staff, etc…

HoudiniEsq report parameters