You want your firm to be mobile, modern, and free of IT worries – so you’re thinking of switching to up your software. But before you commit, do your homework. Take a moment to learn about your options and consider the needs that will drive your choice.
Today’s software, and practice management tools in particular, give law firms the technology they need to be more effective and efficient. The transition can be made easier when the provider offers a hand in getting your account set up and data brought in, but ultimately you need to do the research and prepare to make sure the change is one that benefits you and your firm – without giving you a headache.
We’ll go through common mistakes, and give you the information you need to make the right decision.
1. Avoid choosing the wrong provider
Migration is rewarding long-term. But short-term, it takes up a lot of time. To find a provider who’s a good fit, you need to know what technology and software is right for you.
You have some options when it comes to the type of technology that’s the best fit for your firm. Make sure to think about where your firm is now, where you’d like it to be in a few years and to make sure to take the modern approach to ensure you’ll be using tech that’s still relevant and useful down the road. Otherwise, you might end up having to make this change again sooner than you’d like.
On-premise: buy a license, install the software on your firm’s computers, choose whether or not to pay for upgrades, call IT when there’s a problem, and pay for back up. It works, with limitations.
Hosted cloud: log in to a virtual desktop from your computer to access on-premise-like software. Mobility with restrictions and required maintenance.
Hybrid cloud: software is installed on each device, but data is backed up in the cloud. Sheds on-premise hang-ups, but expect device restriction and ongoing maintenance costs.
Native cloud: entirely web-based. Log on from anywhere, on any device. No need for software installation or IT support because it’s self-maintained.
If there’s a specific program you must use, then you’ll likely end up with separate tools for various tasks in your practice management.
Integrated setups are designed to work with certain other tools – usually popular ones like Dropbox, NetDocuments, etc.
A complete setup runs everything from the same program: time tracking, tasks, billing, trust accounts, business accounts, documents, email, and more.
The downside to multiple programs is paying for them all. You’ll also have to reconcile these different systems and do double data entry, costing time and creating more opportunity for error. Some systems don’t sync well, either.
Consider a single practice management software to bring together billing and accounting instead.
And don’t forget to look at legal-specific programs. They can save you from wrestling with non-specialized tools in areas that are unique to law firms, such as trust accounting.
2. Plan ahead
Now you’ve got the exciting, new vision of what your law firm’s processes could look like – and you just want to get there already. But you still need to plan.
Figure out the timeline for getting ready and switching over each component of your practice management. Then pick a “go live” date.
Allow time to evaluate thoroughly. You’ve decided on your firm’s needs, but there’s no substitute for experience. Reputable software companies should allow a free trial period. So try a few.
Once you’ve demoed a few programs, you’ll have a better sense of which features matter most for your firm. Keep approval “layers” in mind. And you’ll want to factor in lead time for migration. Ask yourself what steps are needed to implement and test your new software. How long will the process take?
3. Don’t underestimate data migration
You’ve chosen to migrate because you know busywork eats away at productivity. But be prepared for the migration to take time.
Assess the data you’re migrating. Where’s it located? Is it up-to-date and accurate? Find out beforehand what services and assistance your new vendor will provide. Look at your expectations and make sure that every single piece of data you might need is included in the migration process.
Non-financial data migration
Non-financial data, like matter information, contacts, tasks, and documents, presents two main challenges. It’s often spread across multiple tools, and it may vary by user.
Financial data migration
With financial data migration, keep in mind that your billing and accounting may be separate. All this data – billing balances, trust transaction history, ledgers, and more – will need to be reviewed for accuracy.
Final dos and don’ts
Think you’re ready for migration? Here’s a few more tips to help make it as smooth as possible:
- Don’t shy away from in-depth migration discussion with vendors.
- Do consult your bookkeeper about the “go live” date.
- Do leave enough time to complete the full migration.
- Don’t import a mess of errors. Clean up your data, if needed.
- Do keep in mind your unique requirements (file numbers, custom fields, etc.)
- Don’t lose sight of cost-effectiveness. It may make more sense to outsource migration or select a vendor who includes this service.
- Do complete in-house verification, no matter who does the work.
In a world increasingly geared toward remote working, many firms want enhanced mobility and hassle-free tech. You can meet those needs by using a cloud-based tool that’s legal-specific and self-maintained. Just be sure to do your research first! Pick the right tool for your needs.
CosmoLex offers a complete practice management program, easily accessible through a web-based login. Give yourself – and your team – the flexibility and support to better serve your clients and community.