The year’s end gives a natural opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months – for lessons learned and for what can be applied to the year ahead. One reverberation from 2020 that has been felt by businesses – law firms – throughout the world is what a difference good technology can make.
As we count down to 2021, we wanted to take a moment to review how law firm technology in three key areas – practice management, billing, and accounting – helped firms respond to the trials of 2020 by being flexible and adaptable.
Legal practice management
Even before the onset of the pandemic, practice management systems designed specifically for law firms had been helping lawyers navigate an increasingly virtual work-world. With their matter-centric approach, these tools enabled firms to stay organized and compliant as everyone scattered to their various home offices.
Ideally, a practice management software will tie tasks and records to a matter, including:
- Time-tracking and to-do lists
- Logging notes and calls
Not only does having an integrated system cut down on time loss and potential errors from double data entry, but it also helps your firm stay compliant with clear record-keeping that links every email and note to a matter.
These modern practice management tools also include features that streamline workflows from home offices.
For example, client portals have proved hugely helpful during remote working because they can be accessed from anywhere, with any device, via a web browser. Once logged in, lawyers and their clients can securely access documents, messages, and other details – a vital form of secure communication when you don’t have regular access to an office.
Likewise, user dashboards, integrations, and add-in’s also helped firms adapt to remote working. These features let firms continue working with their preferred software – such as NetDocuments or Dropbox – while incorporating it into their practice management system.
Everyone wants to get paid for the work they do, and paid on time. Yet lawyers must adhere to stricter record-keeping and billing practices than many other professions – and remote working doesn’t change that.
Legal billing programs allowed firms to keep receiving payments by ensuring firms stayed compliant through appropriate record-keeping, delivering secure invoices, and offering secure online payments options – including by credit card. (Credit card payments are possible thanks to legal-specific software that processes the associated fee separately from payments to a trust account.)
With features like bulk invoicing and invoice read notifications, these tools have helped firms eliminate some administrative tasks – freeing more time for complex tasks that use an lawyer’s specialized skills.
And in keeping with the remote shift, cloud-based technology offered by modern practice management software is accessible from any device – including apps that can be downloaded to a cell phone. This flexibility makes it possible to accommodate work-from-home complications, such as trying to avoid busy times at the grocery store or caring for kids who can’t go to school.
In all the collaborative, remote working, having the right tech to support clear and compliant accounting makes a huge difference.
Secure trust account receipts and reconciliation are needed not only for peace of mind but also for compliance. Additionally, modern accounting tools make it possible for firms to send out automated notifications when retainer balances get low and receive replenishments online. They also help firms manage trust disbursements and reimbursable client costs remotely.
The right tech saves law firms time and provides more of a safety net when it comes to compliance. Having access to these features is valuable at any time, but especially so when lawyers, clients, and the institutions they count on can no longer work together in person.
These keys to adaptability that have proved so important in 2020 will continue to stay relevant into 2021, as the pandemic continues. And while we can’t know what the long-term fallout of this unprecedented year will be, it seems likely that it will mark the beginning of a big shift toward increasingly virtual office culture – and client expectations of adapting to the new norm.
As we wrap up 2020, let’s take the lessons of the past twelve months and incorporate them into our goals for the new year – make the most of available technologies to keep your firm productive, efficient, and profitable into 2021 and beyond.