Excel Spreadsheet Development in the Legal Sector: Case Study


  • The project accelerated a complex admin task for Brethertons LLP’s Probate Department
  • The project rationalised a process, saved staff time and improved outputs for clients
  • The project took place in Summer 2012 and lasted four months


Intro Graphic


Brethertons LLP approached Tiger Spreadsheet Solutions in Spring 2012 for help with spreadsheet development. The firm’s Probate Department uses a spreadsheet to assist with the processing and administration of estates; specifically, to understand how much tax should be paid to HMRC, and how much money – to the penny – each beneficiary should receive.

There was a feeling within the department that the Excel file could be improved. Tony Woodhouse, IT Manager, Brethertons LLP, explains:


“Although the spreadsheet was functional, its limitations were becoming evident as cases became more complex. The team were spending too much time ‘getting it to work’. Generally there was a feeling that we could get more out of Excel – we just needed an injection of spreadsheet expertise. So it was great to be introduced to Tiger.”


Project Launch

At an introductory meeting in April 2012, Tiger Solutions and the firm agreed to work together on a month-by-month basis to improve the spreadsheet. Chris Mortimer led the project for Tiger and was the principal developer of the improved spreadsheet. He picks up the story:


“Our initial approach is always to understand what users are trying to get out of the spreadsheet. So our first move was to arrange a meeting with the whole Probate team. This allowed issues to be aired and explored, and a list of priorities to be drawn up. It was also a great opportunity to meet the staff and hopefully to gain their commitment to the project.”


Chris created a project plan by combining the needs of the staff with Tiger’s 6 spreadsheet development principles: structure, formulae, robustness, presentation, automation and user engagement.

An audit of the spreadsheet with these principles in mind led to ‘quickwins’, or quickly realisable improvements, at the beginning of the project. One was to implement a consistent formatting approach across the whole file: input cells coloured in light blue, headings in white and calculations in grey. This gave the file a new, sophisticated feel and helped staff to navigate smoothly around the various sheets.

Development Process

The project progressed with Brethertons LLP and Tiger working on a week-by-week basis: a day’s development work, acquisition of user feedback and a short summary report. This iterative way of working aligned development closely with user needs and allowed the project to stay on track. Nadiya Virani-Bland, Head of Department, Private Client provided feedback on new developments on behalf of her team:


“I found the spreadsheet development process to be flexible and effective. It was great to be able to talk directly with Chris about our requirements, and to see them implemented in the spreadsheet at short notice. The improved version is easy to operate and impresses clients with its professional appearance; it allows us to focus less on getting Excel to work and more on delivering the best possible service to our clients.”


The spreadsheet evolved to incorporate sophisticated functionality, including button-triggered macro routines that automate time-consuming tasks. Several of these routines interact with legal form software to populate complicated HMRC forms at the click of a button.

Project Outcomes

The application was rolled out to users in late 2012. So far, feedback has been positive, with several team members commenting that the spreadsheet saves time, energy and improves the presentation of the documents shared with clients. Tony Woodhouse, IT Manager, Brethertons LLP, comments:


“The project has improved the efficiency of one of our most used spreadsheets . The process was people-focused and Tiger engaged with our team from day one. As a result, the spreadsheet delivers the functionality that our staff require and has helped improve the service that our Probate department offers to clients. Working with Tiger has helped us to use spreadsheets to push the firm forward in a cost-effective fashion.”


Excel Spreadsheet Development Projects

The project with Brethertons LLP is an example of how effective Excel development can help small-to-medium-sized enterprises improve the efficiency of business processes and deliver better service to clients. For more information about Excel development, contact us.

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