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How to Simplify Your Law Office Management with Firm Central Law Practice Management

By: Terry Rheault, Product Specialist Thomson Reuters
Published: April 12, 2018

When you run a solo or small law firm, you have law office management responsibilities associated with running a business - whether you want to do that work or not. And, to be a successful lawyer you have to find the right balance between both activities.

Here’s why: Today’s competitive legal marketplace demands you provide the highest return on your client’s investment in your firm. That means the small and solo law firms that are around in the future will be those that squeeze every drop of value out of every hour they bill their clients. These firms won’t have a master secret; they’ll simply run their firm like a smart business with better law office management processes.

Here’s the good news: You don’t need to get an MBA to achieve this. Just make a smart investment in legal technology like Firm Central law practice management software, to help you run your business more efficiently. For about the same cost as your monthly cell-phone bill, it can simplify and streamline your law office management operations, so you can give your clients the highest return on their legal investment and spend more of your time on billable activities.

To give you a better understanding of the benefits, we’ve compiled common law office management tasks, and outlined the drastic ways they are typically completed before and after adopting Firm Central law practice management software.   

Operations Task #1: Matter Management

Before Firm Central

  1. The matter team tracks their tasks, notes, contacts and documents in their individual Outlook, Word programs, and paper file folders.
  2. They communicate with each other through Outlook.
  3. On occasion, they’ll upload information to the firm’s shared file folder.
  4. Access to client files is only available while team members are in the office or if they take they paper file with them.
  5. Whenever a document is needed they spend significant amounts of time trying to track down the missing paper or search their computer files.

After Firm Central

  1. All the details related to matter, including notes, tasks, documents, research and client communications are conveniently organized online within the Firm Central matter management folder.
  2. Find documents quickly with global search functionality that allows you to search by words, document type, dates and more to instantly retrieve what you need across  your entire case file or a particular matter.
  3. From the matter dashboard, easily view and monitor the case progress, including documents associated with it and upcoming or overdue due dates for your specific tasks. 
  4. When anything within a matter is updated, a notification about the update is automatically communicated to the rest of the matter team.
  5. Every detail of the matter is accessible from anywhere – at home, at the courthouse, at an airport – anywhere there’s internet service.

The Result: More Revenue

“I used to carry around a milk carton crate with my case files. Now, with Firm Central, I can access my files from anywhere,” says Tina Davis Rincones, Law Offices of Tina Davis Rincones. “Opening Firm Central is the first thing I do every day. You are wasting your time if you don’t have Firm Central. You aren’t making the money you can. You aren’t being efficient.”

Matter Management

Operations Task #2: Legal Deadline Calculations and Calendaring

Before Firm Central

  1. Hours are spent poring over time computation court rules and statutes. If you only have the statutes and court rules in print form, you are rightly concerned about whether the applicable court rules have been updated since the last print date.
  2. Calculations are made to make sure deadlines are recorded properly and not missed. Time is spent double and triple checking calculations. (Here’s hoping nothing changes before the matter concludes, and every holiday and weekend is accounted for.)
  3. Reminders to start each phase of work to meet the deadline, including internal actions that need to happen to move the case forward, are recorded on index cards.
  4. These reminders are passed along to an assistant who drops them into the files tabbed with the start dates.
  5. When that date arrives, the assistant pulls the file and gives the reminders to the appropriate attorney.

After Firm Central

  1. A client matter is created within Firm Central.
  2. With the rules-based legal calendaring functionality, the attorney identifies the jurisdiction and rule event that has occurred, such as a complaint filed or an answer served. Then Firm Central calculates the deadlines based on the applicable court rules from Westlaw.
  3. You can be confident that the deadlines are accurate because the court rules are continuously updated on Westlaw, even a particular judge’s rules set.
  4. There’s a change in a rule set! The matter team is immediately notified via email so they can go into the Firm Central matter to accept the rule date changes and update their matters accordingly.
  5. All calendared dates are automatically added to the Firm Central matter calendar and synched to your Outlook calendar so you are aware of your deadlines at all times.

The Result: Greater Peace of Mind

You never have to worry about human error that is inevitable when it comes to manually calculating court deadlines.

Legal Deadline Calculations and Calendaring

Operations Task #3: Legal Billing and Invoicing

Before Firm Central

  1. Time is tracked with handwritten notes, typically at the end of the day and time is underestimated.
  2. These notes are passed along to an assistant.
  3. There’s a missed post-it note– it might have fallen off the file; the time is written off. 
  4. The assistant sorts through the notes, types them into a spreadsheet, calculates the totals, compiles the invoices, and deducts monies from accounts for retainers or IOLTAs.
  5. Rarely, if ever, does the assistant create any kind of firm performance report because it takes days to analyze and compile data.

After Firm Central

  1. All billable work is contemporaneously tracked within the Firm Central time and billing software – multiple timers can be open at once if there’s work with clients in rapid succession.
  2. Not in the office? No big deal. Time can be tracked on a Smartphone, tablet or laptop and saved within the Firm Central matter folder.
  3. Time is automatically recorded so that, in a click:
    • Accurate, up-to-the second invoices can be reviewed, generated and sent to clients.
    • Financial performance reports monitoring trust-account balances, collections, write offs, matter or client hours, and more can be quickly generated.
    • All the expenses incurred in a matter can be reviewed at a glance.
    • Money from multiple accounts – such as retainer accounts or IOLTAs – can be easily monitored and instantly deducted.

The Result: Increased Productivity

"Firm Central and time and billing has considerably simplified our billing procedures,” says Edward Lee, Senior Partner, Lee, Goodwin, Lee, Lewis & Dobson. “The time we have saved using these software platforms has considerably increased the productivity of our office."

Legal Billing and Invoicing

Operations Task #4: Client Communication

Before Firm Central

  1. Clients receive and share information about their matter via unencrypted email that can be easily hacked.
  2. Clients text, email or call for updates. If you don’t have the file in front of you, you are unable to give an update and have to schedule an update with the client for later.
  3. Documents are exchanged in person, via fax, or through unencrypted email or public web portals like DropBox.

After Firm Central

A secure client portal built into Firm Central is used to exchange communication, including documents, between the matter team and the client. This portal:

  1. Saves time because if a client has any concerns, they can simply log in to see the progress of their case, instead of reaching out to their attorney.
  2. Moves the case along with speed because documents can be exchanged efficiently and securely.
  3. Prevents breaches because it’s encrypted, unlike most general email and file-sharing services.
  4. Keeps a record of all of your client communications and actions taken.

The Result: Improved Security and Communication

"Lawyers really need to consider whether emailing anything significant to a client is appropriate…we have an independent, ethical responsibility to protect our clients’ confidential information,” says Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, who advocates using secure client portals."

Operations Task #5: Legal Research

Before Firm Central

  1. An attorney or assistant highlights the document’s legal citations.  
  2. They manually look up the citations to make sure they’re still good law.
  3. They occasionally check to see if the citation is still relevant, or hope that that there aren’t any changes in law before the matter is concluded.
  4. They may copy and paste citations into their computer, or make a physical copy and add it to their paper case file.

After Firm Central

  1. Upload a legal document with citations to the Firm Central matter folder.
  2. Through an unmatched Westlaw integration, legal citations in the uploaded document are automatically highlighted and linked back to precedent in Westlaw.
  3. All citations automatically receive a KeyCite flag so you can easily identify disputed or invalid citations.  The KeyCite flags in the document are automatically updated if the status of any citation changes. 
  4. All legal research can easily be saved in the Firm Central matter folder.

The Result: Stronger Cases

With the power of the Westlaw and Firm Central integration, you can instantly identify holes in your own case and your opponent’s, and rest assured knowing that your citations are always based on good law.

Realize Big Benefits with Firm Central

In essence, Firm Central can simplify your law office management tasks by:

  • Decreasing manual work and human error while increasing efficiency.
  • Increasing billable hours and the revenue that comes with them.
  • Improve productivity.

As a result, you can give clients more of what they’re paying for – good legal strategy – and less of what they don’t want – inefficient administration. Best of all, with Firm Central, you don’t need an MBA to make it happen.

Terry Rheault

About the author
Terry Rheault is a licensed attorney in Minnesota where he earned his J.D. from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. Terry has been an account manager with Thomson Reuters since 2006, where he has introduced attorneys to the gamut of law practice management solutions including Firm Central, Time & Billing, Deadline Assistant, Drafting Assistant, Practical Law, Practice Point and Case Logistix.

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