At the heart of your law firm is an information management challenge. Law firms consume and produce a massive amount of data. The ability to effectively manage your time, case, and accounting data is critical to running a successful firm. In fact, it’s a major business opportunity. Increasing productivity, maintaining compliance, minimizing errors, billing more quickly… Each offers a chance to gain a competitive advantage in a crowded market. Selecting the right software tools is a key step in tackling the information management challenge facing your firm.
So, what specific capabilities do legal software options offer to lower operating costs and deliver improved service? Well, legal software can really be broken down into three distinct functional areas. Each functional area serves the goal of creating a more efficient and competitive firm. Practice management, office accounting, and time and billing software provide the three pillars of a complete approach to legal information management. Each can be purchased as an individual program. But, it is common to see all three offered together as a complete legal software suite. Understanding the distinct capabilities and benefits of practice management, legal accounting, and time and billing software, can help you determine which is most beneficial for your firm.
Robust practice management software is critical to managing client and case information. A capable practice management program can make a huge difference in promoting visibility and oversight across all of your firms clients and matters. In this respect, practice management software offers not only the base functionality to manage client and matter data, but the foundation for collaboration across the firm. The right choice in this area can help ensure you are spending less time tracking and searching for information and more time acting on it.
Clients are the lifeblood of any legal firm. An important capability of practice management software is the ability to track client data. Contact management functionality not only tracks client info, but lets attorneys and other employees record interaction with clients and to associate their related matters. An organized approach to client data tracking is critical not only for executing case work, but for proper billing and client retention purposes.
Case work itself is complex. A significant part of this complexity stems directly from the information management challenge. Who owns responsibility for the case work? What information must be databased? What internal resources need to be applied? How will resources be scheduled? Case management features are designed to ease the process of answering these questions.
A critical aspect of tracking client and case information is document management. Practice management programs are designed to minimize the difficulty associated with assembling the relevant client and case data. Common document features include the ability to associate emails and calls with clients and case, easily access related forms, and share data with relevant employees.
Law offices, of course, are not exempt from maintaining accurate accounting records. In fact, law firms face many of the same accounting challenges as other business, as well as some unique ones.
Accounting software packages designed for law firms offer a full range of financial management tools. Accounting features include the ability to:
With the right legal accounting software you are better able to centralize your data. Providing controlled access to resources across your enterprise can help reduce operating costs. Integrated accounting capabilities help prevent data re-entry, minimize errors, avoid penalties or lost business resulting from a lack of compliance, and establish other financial management efficiencies.
Legal firms often have the unique, additional requirement of handling trust accounting. Strong cash management and bank reconciliation capabilities are a must when managing investments across a client portfolio. Assigning which funds can be dispersed, cutting checks, and maintaining proper records are functions supplied by trust accounting software. Generally, basic bookkeeping and more industry neutral accounting packages do not offer the features required for efficient management of trust accounting.
Your main product, as a legal firm, is the time and expertise of your attorneys. And more specifically, its the application of that time to meeting your clients legal objectives. Consequently, in most cases, your billing is directly tied to the time spent on your clients’ matters. A capable time and billing program is therefore one of the most important information systems for any law firm.
Whether you are billing on hourly rates or flat-fees, time and billing software is designed to flexibly meet your time tracking and billing needs. Most programs offer the ability to both enter and track hours in real-time, as well as create after the fact time entries. The ease of which attorneys can track time has a direct relationship with the accuracy of the resulting billing statements. Tedious time-tracking approaches majorly inhibit the ability to accurately track and bill time. The market is rife with companies offering time and billing solutions, though. This competition works to your advantage. Software providers have been continually refining their ability to offer lightweight, accessible, and intuitive time and billing software choices.
Do you require a fully integrated legal software solution? That’s one of the main questions facing you as a buyer. As noted, practice management, legal accounting, and time and billing software can be found as standalone solutions. This sort of standalone approach can be very attractive. Companies often gravitate toward it in order to leverage existing investments by adding components. Standalone programs may offer more out of the box specialization and the ability to more closely target unique needs.
On the other side of the coin, there are many full systems that offer a complete, integrated approach. This type of approach can decrease ongoing support costs related to maintaining integration. Complete systems also promote efficiencies related to decreasing the duplication of data that might occur when maintaining multiple systems. Also, a consistent GUI is simpler and quicker to learn. The fact is, there are few industries where the minute-by-minute time spent by users learning software represents as significant of a lost earning opportunity as with law firms.
Another important consideration for legal firms is the access to support and services. Implementing a new software program is a major decision not only because of the monetary cost, but the potential impact on time. Data conversion–that is, bringing in your existing data to a new system–is particularly intense for law firms because of the data-centric nature of the business. Additionally, there is a learning curve with new systems. Consequently, for even the smallest firms, it’s almost always advisable to contract with a knowledgeable software partner for implementation, training, and support services.
If you are at the point where you are ready to find which legal software options are right for you, we can help. Through a brief phone call, our software specialists will look to better understand your business and software needs to help you locate a handful of solutions that can address the issues you are currently experiencing. Get started today!