As a former in-house lawyer (Commerce Commission, State Services Commission, Department of Internal Affairs), I understand the importance of the legal team maintaining current matters lists. They can be important for a number of reasons, including keeping the Chief Legal Advisor or General Counsel apprised of what’s happening, enabling that person or his or her deputies to keep senior managers informed and to inform higher levels of governance when required.
In former lives I’ve drafted or contributed to current matters lists on many occasions and, in one department, I helped to implement a matter reporting tool (of sorts). At the same time, and despite their significance, the act of contributing to such lists on a regular basis wasn’t something I relished and going through all matters in meetings wasn’t always a particularly edifying experience.
I was, therefore, pretty interested to read a recent article by Juno’s Matt Farrington called Risk and significance heatmap reporting. Matt explains how one can arrange a legal team’s current matter list into a heatmap that, for each matter, displays the matter’s legal risk rating and the level of governance that has been informed of the matter. What’s significant and different about the heatmap reporting is that cells in a table are colour-coded depending on the combination of the level of legal risk and the level of governance aware of the matter. If you’re familiar with risk rating tables that have the impact of risk on one axis and the likelihood of the risk occurring on the other axis, you’ll know what I mean. It’s like applying that approach to legal matter reporting. Take a look at Matt’s article for an example (and read on to see one below).
The rationale for taking this approach and what it shows is clearly covered in Matt’s article and he has also made available for download a template Excel spreadsheet (kindly licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence). In addition, as Matt notes, the categories used in a tool like this may vary from organisation to organisation.
I like what Matt is suggesting here. When I contributed to current matter lists as in-house counsel, I don’t think they showed the level of governance escalation per matter. That’s a really useful dimension in my view.
Implementing a current matters heatmap
As I worked through Matt’s article, my eyes gravitated to the final section on how to implement a tool like this. Matt noted that some practice management systems include this type of heatmap reporting (which, I suspect, will be beyond the reach of many organisations) and that, for comparatively small matter lists, one can create a table in Microsoft Word or Excel. “But”, Matt continued, “if you’ve got lots of matters or are using a practice management system that doesn’t have this type of report automatically, it’s more trouble than you would think to get it automatically arranged in a heatmap format.” Matt described the best solution they’d found so far and said “please let us know if you’ve got something better”.
I certainly did not have anything better, but I like what Matt is doing here and I know what it’s like for an organisation to be wedded to Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, especially if they can’t group edit them in the likes of Google Docs. So this all got me wondering: how could we implement this on the web? Wouldn’t a web-based solution enable multiple people to edit the heatmap without being locked into a single document and might that be configurable and editable in a way that gives people more flexibility?
After a bit of tinkering, the implementation below is what I came up with. As a part of this site, it’s running on WordPress. The awesome plugin that drives it – WPDataTables – is highly configurable and it’s through the use of conditional cell formatting that we can enable relevant colours to automatically display in a given colour based on the level of legal risk and level of governance oversight. The only ‘slightly manual’ aspect here is that, for this conditional formatting to work, you have to type a brief summary of the risk rating and governance oversight level into brackets after the matter name, for example: “Bullying allegation (3B)”, which corresponds to a legal risk rating of 3 (High) and governance oversight of B (GM). This only takes few seconds; you just have to remember do it.
|wdt_ID||1 Routine||2 Elevated||3 High||4 Extreme||Significance|
|4||A routine elevated matter (2A)||A-Routine|
|5||Matter B (2A)||A-Routine|
|7||Contract dispute with X (3C)||C-CEO|
|8||Judicial review of policy decision regarding ABC and DEF (1C)||C-CEO|
|9||Media article against Minister (3D)||D-Board/Minister|
|10||Matter in which Min interested (1D)||D-Board/Minister|
|14||Privacy Act request (4D)||D-Board/Minister|
|15||Assault charge (4B)||B-GM|
|16||Inline editing!! Contract interpretation issue (1A)||A-Routine|
|1 Routine||2 Elevated||3 High||4 Extreme||Significance|
How to edit entries, delete entries, and add new entries
To edit a matter, an authorised user can click on any cell in the relevant row. This will give you the option of editing the matter, deleting it, or adding a new entry.
An authorised user can also edit a cell with text in it by double clicking on that cell (once you’re done editing, just click outside the table and your edits will be saved).
To add a new matter, all you have to do is double click any row and select ‘New entry’ from the options that appear.
To see the video in a larger view, click on its expand option below (four arrows pointing outwards).
The heatmap can be made to stretch to the width of your web page. This particular page isn’t too wide (for legibility reasons) but you might want the heatmap to be on a wider page. Here’s an example.
(Thanks to Thad Zajdowicz for his Grid image (used as the featured image) which he has licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Thanks also to Bensound (www.bensound.com) for the music (called ‘Dance’), licensed by Bensound under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 licence.)