Choosing a practice management software for your law firm is a big decision. It may feel like there isn’t possibly enough time to weigh all your options, and you may have colleagues who are resistant to making any sort of change.
Yet the practice management software you use can make a huge difference in the day-to-day operations of your firm. The right software will save your team valuable time on routine administrative, organizational, and billing tasks.
Ultimately, the time invested in finding the right practice management software for your firm can pay dividends. The trick is to narrow your search according to what your law firm needs and what its goals are.
Use legal-specific software
The processes and ethical rules lawyers must follow are very different from how other businesses operate.
While it’s certainly possible to patch things together across a number of different generic platforms, using generic software comes with a hidden cost—the time and energy required to make it fit your firm’s needs.
The most straightforward approach is to use a matter-centric, legal-specific practice management software.
Not only will a software built for law firms provide helpful compliance protections, but it will also be tailored to the daily needs of a legal practice, so you won’t need to waste additional time trying to adapt generic software to legal-specific workflows.
Find features that fit your firm’s needs
The software you use should fill the gaps where your law firm most needs support. This will look different for different law firms.
If you don’t have a good sense of what your needs are, consider tracking your time and identifying the tasks that eat into your billable hours.
Some law firms struggle to send invoices to clients in a routine and timely manner, leading to cash flow bottlenecks and lower collection rates. These law firms may want to look for a platform that includes robust legal billing capabilities. They could then generate and send invoices in bulk—making the task much more manageable.
Other firms may work remotely or have a hybrid home-and-office approach. A cloud-based software with robust mobile support can support remote collaboration and ensure deadlines are met even when team members are traveling or working away from the office.
Almost every law firm needs the ability to quickly draft and send contracts and other legal documents. A practice management system with automated document creation could help streamline the process.
Instead of copying and pasting client information into a template and hoping you remember to change all the appropriate fields, automated document creation allows you to simply import client information into a template.
In short, document automation is faster and more accurate.
For many law firms, streamlining administrative processes and staying organized is a key pain point.
A practice management software that includes calendars and other task management tools can help your firm:
- Keep track of billable events and catch billable hours that haven’t been tracked yet
- Organize tasks and workflows by matter to create a solid paper trail
- Build out custom workflows and import them into new and existing matters
Identify your goals
While identifying current needs is a good start, you should also consider your goals for the firm’s future and potential growth.
If you’re trying to grow your law firm by branching out into a new practice area, what new needs might that involve?
Alternatively, if you’re looking to bring on more staff, certain administrative tasks will expand with that growth. Ask yourself if bringing on more lawyers will result in needing to hire administrative support. If so, you may want to consider a practice management system that automates routine administrative tasks in order to keep overhead low.
After all, just because you can do everything yourself doesn’t mean you should. Part of the goal is to spend your time on tasks that earn more.
Whether it’s your core staff or contract workers, such as marketing professionals or an accountant, many law firms now do some level of remote collaboration.
For these firms, native cloud programs may be worth paying close attention to. They allow users to securely log on anywhere, from any device, and ensure that files update in real time.
A platform that will grow with your firm
Find a platform that will grow with your firm. The practice management system you choose should offer law firms real support and commit to regular updates.
You’re investing your time, so make sure it’s with a platform that will keep striving to meet your needs.
Look for secure processes
Whatever your goals and needs, vetting a software’s security features should be an integral part of your practice management software search.
Lawyers have an ethical obligation to protect their client’s sensitive information. And with today’s increasingly digital workflows, this isn’t just keeping papers out of sight or file cabinets locked—it also means keeping digital documents and files secure.
Although your specific practice area may not be an obvious target for hackers, it’s still a good idea—and an ethical obligation—to properly secure your clients’ personal and matter-related information. This may mean using quality encryption in transit and at rest or knowing whether your data is stored in the US or internationally.
Some law offices may benefit from taking additional precautions. For instance, if you run a family law practice and regularly work with clients who are getting divorced, then you know it’s always possible for an unhappy spouse to read through your client’s emails.
For these law firms in particular, it may make sense to use a secure client portal for documents and messaging.
Take advantage of free trials
Congratulations! You’ve narrowed the list down to a few legal practice management systems that:
- Have features that fit your firm’s current needs
- Have features that support your firm’s goals for growth
- Continue to offer updates and improvements
- Provide robust security
Now it’s time to consider what it might be like to actually use those practice management systems. Ask yourself:
- How straightforward is the migration process?
- What kind of support does this software offer for migration?
- How much does it cost to get started?
- Do they offer a free trial?
Programs with a more manageable migration process and better support are going to be easier to switch to. Likewise, it’s worth considering the costs of getting started and whether you need to pay a lot upfront or if you can pay on a monthly subscription basis.
Once you have a sense of these answers, it’s time to try your top choices on for size. The software you’re considering should offer a free trial period. Take advantage of this offer to test out the system.
At the end of the day, the best way to know if a system is right for your firm is to use it.