I’m not surprised that the latest ABA Legal Technology Survey reported fewer lawyers are using law practice management software. But I am disappointed. I’ve been exhorting law firms to embrace this technology for two decades. Yet lawyers are walking away from it when they’ve never needed it more, considering the escalating pressure to produce profit and maintain costs.
If attorneys want to keep up in the competitive legal marketplace, they need to get better at managing their law firms by adopting law practice management software that’s designed for small law firms – which is not Outlook® or Google Drive™. If you’re using Outlook or Google Drive to manage your firm, it’s no wonder you’re struggling with law firm management. Outlook makes it almost impossible to tie together disparate records so they can be easily searched, shared, or used. So if you’re using that, you’re totally missing out on what makes law practice management software worth having.
When I used law practice management software in my own practice, it saved me at least 30 minutes a day between myself and my staff – often much more. It gave us the technology we needed to leverage our information so we could streamline our workflow. Basically, it made work a lot easier.
Law practice management software is a must for every solo and small law firm in this day and age. It is one software solution that provides multiple benefits at a very reasonable cost.
I’ve observed firms scan everything, then end up printing out those scanned documents over and over again as they create different versions for their files. A law practice management system provides the proper tools for saving and working with electronic files, so instead of having a file with 10 or 12 versions in it, you have a single document that tracks changes. And, you don’t have to keep printing things.
The human error that is inherent in handling paper files is also eliminated. For instance, let’s say you save a document to the wrong matter; you can easily find it by running a quick search with a fact or name. Obviously, you can’t do that with a misfiled piece of paper. That’s why moving to a paperless law office is so critical.
The best law firm practice management systems provide robust legal matter management to ensure all the moving parts of every matter are in one location, including:
This allows you to store all matter related information in one centralized location, giving you instant access to any matter information you need. If a client calls with a question related to their matter, open up the matter in your practice management system and respond to them quickly. If you need to find a document you were working on last week, run a quick search and find exactly what you need. All of this can be done within only one application.
Enter contact information once and the law practice management system will store that contact information for easy use in the future. If you work with the contact on another matter, you don’t need to reenter their information; just note their involvement in the matter file, and the matter management system will automatically insert their details.
This comes in handy when you’re working with the same person on multiple cases. At a glance, you’ll see every matter that involves them and you can discuss them all, saving multiple emails and phone calls.
Too many lawyers are still using a notepad, index card, or Post-it note to track hours. They then pass those haphazard “records” along to their assistant to compile invoices every month. Heaven forbid that they want a financial report, because that means the assistant must peruse and compile records, and spend hours building spreadsheets.
In comparison, tracking time in the legal billing software component of law practice management is liberating. With the click of a timer on the practice management system’s online dashboard, you can record time and activity. These time entries, along with any expense entries, can quickly be added to a professional invoice, that you can edit and update, in a few clicks.
Because time record, expense, and invoice data is all stored in the practice management system, you can easily view and create financial reports, including total billed dollars, total collected dollars, aging accounts receivable, and write-offs, to name a few. This makes tracking and understanding the profitability of your firm so much easier.
Missed deadlines: If you have never awoken in the middle of the night, panicked that you might have blown a statute of limitations date, you’re in the wrong field, because that should be something that keeps you up.
Many malpractice insurance providers give discounts to firms that use automated rules-based legal deadline calculator technology, which is a convenient component within some law practice management systems. Discounts are offered because these tools virtually eliminate human error in calculating legal deadlines. The legal calendaring component allows you to automatically calculate legal deadlines for every matter. If any deadline rules change, notifications are sent so you know of the rule change and can choose to update your dates to follow the new deadline rule.
Conflicts of interest: You can also reduce your risk in your conflict-checking process. Too many conflict-checking methods depend on memory. In contrast, conflict checking with a practice management system is much more reliable, because a simple search across the entire practice management database – including files, text documents, and images that have undergone optical character recognition – will provide you with a list of potential conflict results.
Data breaches: Malpractice suits around cybersecurity were unheard of years ago, but now law firms are being sued for not doing enough to protect confidential information.
Always remember that you are a target because you have information that hackers want – whether it’s Social Security numbers or merger details. So cybersecurity needs to be one of your top priorities – if not the number-one priority.
Good law practice management software can instantly provide world-class security that would be too expensive and time-consuming for you to attain on your own. This includes a built-in secure client portal that encrypts documents and messages, so you can securely exchange information with clients. Furthermore, it can track every action taken regarding this information, so if a client insists they never got a response, you can simply pull up your time-stamped records from the client portal to address their concern.
The unexpected can happen. If someone is suddenly out of the office or a disaster strikes, can you easily access everything you need to keep matters moving forward? With law practice management software, you’ll be able to move forward almost as if nothing has happened because all of the matter details will be organized and updated in an online location.
Furthermore, keeping the entire matter team up to speed is effortless. You can stop wasting time sending multiple emails and manually tracking drafts and edits. In law practice management software, updates on documents and calendars happen in real time – everyone is always on the same page.
I prefer cloud-based law practice management software, because it allows you to work from anywhere there’s internet access – whether that’s the courthouse, your home, or the airport, and you can access the system from your smartphone. You don’t have to struggle with logging into virtual private networks that are only accessible from computers.
After reviewing all of these benefits – and there are even more – you probably have a better understanding of why I’m concerned that lawyers aren’t embracing law practice management tools. I suspect they’re using a system not designed specifically for solo or small law firms, and that’s left them frustrated. Or, they just don’t want to invest the up-front resources to establish and learn a system.
If that’s you, here’s what you must know: Don’t put off getting a practice management system designed especially for a legal practice. Your investment now will pay off over and over again. You’ll stop duplicating effort, and you’ll stop wasting time and resources by manually completing work that can be done accurately and automatically within a practice management system.
What you will start doing is more of what will make your firm successful – establishing strong cases, practicing good law, and building a better business. As a result, it will be much easier for you to thrive under the unprecedented pressures all firms are facing today.
Read three basic suggestions that will allow even the most underwater of solo and small-firm practitioners to feel like a real lawyer again.
Learn how Firm Central law practice management can help you simplify your time-consuming law office management tasks so you can focus on practicing law.