For law firms seeking to reduce inefficiencies and offer clients a more consistent and streamlined process, a new practice management system can do much of the heavy lifting.
Switching to a new system does require reflection on your firm’s goals and needs, as well as a commitment to getting the new software up and running. But this is an investment of time and resources that will pay major dividends later.
Find the right provider
First, you need to find the right product for your law firm. If you’re part of a mid-sized firm, that might mean creating a team to research practice management systems and determine which systems are the most likely to be a good fit. If you’re a solo, you and your administrative staff may be the team.
Look at your firm’s specific needs
However you choose to proceed, start by considering your firm’s specific needs and goals.
Does your team sometimes work remotely? In that case, a native cloud system may be a good idea. With a cloud-based practice management software, you can log into the system from anywhere, on any device. Likewise, documents with multiple collaborators will update seamlessly, so you’re always working with the latest version.
And if your clients prefer to work with you remotely, you might consider looking for software with a secure client portal where they can easily access documents—without the security risks of sending sensitive information as email attachments.
A fully-integrated solution
Another consideration is whether the practice management software you’re looking at allows your firm to manage all of its daily needs from within a single login. Most practice management platforms offer integrations with other common software tools like Quickbooks, but a fully integrated solution can save your firm time and increase efficiency by limiting how often you need to switch windows and tabs
Your practice management software should also integrate seamlessly with your email and your document sharing and management tools, such as Office 365, Google Drive, and Box.
Goals and growth
As you look at how various features meet your firm’s current needs, you should also take time to consider how well they’ll work for you in the future.
Although no one can predict the future when it comes to developments in legal technology, it helps to consider if the software companies you’re looking at are committed to making updates and developing new features.
Ideally, the platform should grow with your firm.
Take advantage of free trials
The best way to determine which features will be the most useful to your firm is to try them in action. Reputable software companies should be confident enough in their product to offer a free trial or a feature-rich demo that allows you to see the software in action.
Plan to test out a few. This includes determining what judgment criteria you’ll apply to the software you test, how you’ll get your staff trained to try it out, and how long the process will take.
Choose a “go live” date
Once you’ve tried out a few different practice management systems, you should have a strong sense of which one you prefer.
The next step is to pick a “go live” date. But before you do, know that you’ll need to factor in a lot of moving parts. Figure out a timeline for each component, including consulting with your bookkeeper and any vendors.
Once you have a sense of the various timelines you’ll be working with, you can choose your “go live” date.
Plan for data migration
While it will ultimately set you up for a more consistent, efficient, and streamlined workflow, it’s important not to underestimate the migration process.
All law firms have a lot of data, and every firm is different. Each has its own unique requirements for custom fields, file numbers, and other information.
While it certainly helps to work with a software company that regularly helps law firms make the switch to their practice management system, consider outsourcing the data migration process to reduce the burden on your team.
Assess your data
Before you begin migrating data, review what you’re importing. Although the last thing you want right now is another task, now is truly the best time to sort through what you have.
After all, no one wants to go through the effort of importing a mess. Untangle it now, not later.
Financial data you’ll need to migrate includes:
- Works-in-progress (WIPs)
- Accounts receivable
- Client trust account balances and histories
- Bank balances
- Any uncleared transactions
- General ledger accounts
- Trial balances
Migrating financial data requires attention to detail, particularly if you currently use separate billing and accounting platforms. Factor in time to review all this data for accuracy. No one wants to complete the data migration process only to find out their books are off because a transaction got missed somewhere along the way.
If the software company you’re working with has data migration instructions and templates, consider using them to help your team stay organized.
Non-financial data for migration includes:
- Client information
- Matter information
- Custom fields
- Documents and emails
Determine what data needs to be moved and where it’s located—then list it all out. A list is especially helpful for non-financial data because it’s often spread across multiple platforms, making it easy to forget something.
Keep in mind that non-financial data location may vary by user, too.
Verify your data
Whether you outsource the data migration process or not, it’s important to verify your data in-house once the process is complete. You and your team know your data better than anyone, so you’re in the best position to determine if something is off or missing.
Look forward to new opportunities
Once you’ve migrated everything over to your new practice management software, there may still be a bit of a learning curve ahead of you. Just as you would with routine education on cybersecurity, give your staff the training they need to succeed.
But don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for getting up and running with a new system! The days of redundant data entry and losing time to repetitive tasks are behind you—prepare to use those hours for new opportunities.