Growing a law firm with a mission-driven approach

Dunkiel Saunders Elliott Raubvogel & Hand

2001

Year Founded

11-50

Number of Staff

2017

Started Using Clio

Burlington, VT, USA

Location

Contingency

Flat Fee

Hourly

Fee Types

Business

Energy

Environmental

Practice Areas

Brian Dunkiel and John Kassel, Dunkiel Saunders Elliott Raubvogel & Hand

Dunkiel Saunders Elliott Raubvogel & Hand, also known as Dunkiel Saunders, is a Vermont law firm that’s focused on making a difference. Originally starting out as an environmental law firm, the practice has expanded into many other areas including business law, but has always stayed true to their mission of making the world a better place. Now, the firm uses Clio to stay focused on their mission, while achieving incredible results.

Mission-driven and data-driven

“We like to say we’re a law firm with a mission, and our mission is to make a difference with our practice,” said Brian Dunkiel, partner and co-founder at Dunkiel Saunders Elliott Raubvogel & Hand. Starting out as an environmental firm, the lawyers at Dunkiel Saunders have always been focused on improving the world around them—adding more goals for each new practice area over the years.

“In the energy practice, one of the outcomes we want is a reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere,” explained John Kassel, managing partner at the firm. “In our affordable housing practice, we want to represent clients who produce the outcome of greater access to affordable housing units. In our healthcare practice it’s increased access to healthcare, particularly primary care for people who lack access now.

But with Clio, they’ve taken the focus of their mission to another level.

“Just as any new matter goes through a conflict check, any new matter also goes through a mission check, and the mission check process is transparent to everyone in the law firm,” Brian explained. “For every new matter that comes in, we rank it in a range of one to five, five being the most mission aligned work and one being the least.” From there, the firm decides as a group whether it’d like to take on a case, with its mission rating being a deciding factor.

It’s important to Dunkiel Saunders to keep track of how closely they’re sticking to their mission and Clio makes that easy.

At Dunkiel Saunders, the mission rating for a given matter is a custom field in Clio. The firm then looks at its matters in a number of ways, sorting by hours, revenues, practice area, practice area by mission, and more. John says this is extremely helpful in helping the firm drill down and find the clients it wants going forward.

The firm hasn’t been collecting this data for long, but so far, the insights have been incredibly interesting.

“What we have found with the help of Clio is that the vast majority of our work is rated a four or five. Some it’s three, and a very little sliver was two in the last pie chart we did,” John said. “It’s really helpful to have that data in Clio to help us focus on that.”

What gets measured, gets managed. And with Clio, Dunkiel Saunders can measure what it believes is most important: On top of keeping an eye on billable targets and revenues, the firm values the ability to keep its eyes on what they’re there for—to make a difference in the world.

By tracking how closely their work aligns with their mission, Dunkiel Saunders can get the information it needs to make pragmatic business decisions.

“With the use of Clio, we can get better information about the connection between the profitability of the firm and the higher-ranking mission work.” Brian said. “It could be that extremely positive mission work is also very profitable and we may instinctively know that, but having data to support that will help us make better decisions.”

The power of reporting

When Dunkiel Saunders chose its practice management platform, the firm went with Clio because they loved its flexibility—especially when it came to custom fields and reporting. Prior to adding Clio to their workflow, the firm was working with financial accounting software, but was missing the functionality that a practice management platform would provide, such as time tracking, and matter management.

”We made a huge leap forward with Clio,” John admitted. “Clio was much better that a couple of the other leading candidates we looked at.”

As a growing firm, Dunkiel Saunders also values how organized, stable, and secure Clio has made its massive database of clients and matters. Outside consultants told the firm that with the size and complexity of the business, there was a potential risk of database corruption without a dedicated system.

“When you get to be a business of a certain size you just can’t take risks like that anymore,” John said. “I think we all feel much better about the security and stability of our financial accounts. We improved by going with Clio, and going to the cloud as a result.”

Overall, the ability to use custom fields to keep track of mission ratings in Clio has been a game changer for the firm.

“Clio has enabled us to be far more systematic about the way we keep track of this work,” John said. “Without Clio, we didn’t have the ability to slice and dice the data as finely as we do now.”

Being enabled to track the firm’s progress in terms of its mission-driven approach has helped the firm make better business decisions, but more generally, it’s also made things much more enjoyable for John and the other lawyers at Dunkiel Saunders.

“[Having this reporting ability] makes the practice a lot more interesting and gratifying than it was in the old days,” John said. “We find Clio is a tool that can really help us achieve our own internal mission, which is having a private practice that lawyers want to be a part of for their entire careers.”

“Without Clio, we didn’t have the ability to slice and dice the data as finely as we do now.”

Efficient, online billing

In addition to supporting Dunkiel Saunders in running a mission-driven law firm, Clio has also helped the firm make daily workflows, like billing, much more efficient.

“It’s a little embarrassing, but we used to copy paper in triplicate with, you know, blue, green and pink sheets of paper,” Brian said. “We had a manila folder that worked its way through the office for partners and others to redo hard copies of the invoices and make notations, and I assume that folder went somewhere and someone did something with all those notes.”

“This was in 2016 that we were doing this,” John added. “That’s how badly we were in need of software.”

With Clio, the time it takes to review and create a bill at Dunkiel Saunders has decreased drastically. It takes Brian roughly the same amount of time as before to review an invoice. But since Clio is cloud-based, he can review invoices from anywhere, rather than waiting for a manila folder to be dropped on his desk.

Also, since lawyers edit bills on-screen rather than by hand, there’s less back and forth over illegible handwritten notes.

“It is a huge decrease in time for the bookkeeper and a substantial decrease in turnaround time in terms of getting bills out, all of which translates into better cash flow, happier client’s, fewer screw ups on the bills,” John said. “We’re talking about four or five days per month in terms of time saved.”

Even better? Dunkiel Saunders uses Clio’s online payment system, which has dramatically improved the firm’s cash flow.

“[Clio] enables us to be the firm we want to be. We’re creating a new mould. We’re trying to create a new kind of law firm.”

The future: A sustainable, mission-driven law firm

So far, the mission-driven approach Dunkiel Saunders has taken is working well. The firm has grown, at least in part because of how it’s stuck to its mission to make a difference.

How do they know that? The firm tracks referral sources for each new matter using custom fields in Clio, and there’s a clear trend.

“We get a lot of referrals from existing clients who are happy to be a part of what we’re doing,” John said. “The most common referral source is from an existing client, and the next biggest is word of mouth.”

In other words, sticking to a clear mission and vision can lead to happy clients and more referrals for your business.

The leaders at Dunkiel Saunders have a vision for the firm and its mission-driven model to live beyond their careers as well.“We’re coming up to a point where some of the original founding partners will be contemplating slowing down or even retiring, so our next task is to ensure we can sustain the law firm through those transitions.”

It’s a tall order, but the folks at Dunkiel Saunders are a determined bunch, and they’ll have Clio to support them every step of the way.

“[Clio] enables us to be the firm we want to be,” John said. “We’re creating a new mould. We’re trying to create a new kind of law firm. And we’re succeeding at it—and Clio is helping us do that.”