Safely and Effectively Maximize Your Legal Case Management Budget
BY Jim Carroll
Since the early 1990’s, case management software has steadily increased its market share year over year. As the practice of law became more complex, using tools to manage this complexity has become a necessity for big and small firms alike.
In the early days of adoption, the cost of proper case management software was prohibitive for small firms. Large firms needed robust and multifaceted programs that handled a variety of practice areas and were able to collect data on every type of law a large firm handled. However, even firms that specialized in one area of the law still needed software that could handle niche markets.
Therefore, it is not surprising that over the years case management software programs have become leaner and cheaper, and accessible to one and two attorney firms.
This article will review the options for small firms to safely and effectively maximize their case management budget in order to compete with big firms for market share.
Server-based vs. Cloud-based solutions
The first decision you will have to make is whether you will use server-based or cloud-based software. With server-based case management software, a server, often on-site, runs the program. All of the data is kept on that server and can be accessed by everyone.
A cloud-based case management software program is one where the program, as well as your data, is accessed by connecting to the internet. The website you use to interact with the data is the program, and the data is kept on someone else’s computers, far away from you. Currently, most high-end case management software offer both. But most of the less costly case management software is only cloud-based. What are the benefits to either?
If you want to protect data from destruction due to a natural disaster, a cloud-based solution is the best way to go. The use of servers to store the data can be dangerous, particularly if that server is kept at your office.
Off-site servers are an option, but again, how far away from your office should they be? If your law firm’s data is being stored across the city in a server farm and your entire city is affected by a disaster, then your data is still at risk.
There are many cloud-based options that allow you to store documents, pictures, spreadsheets and other data. These are not actually case management software. However, some of them, such as Dropbox, can integrate with cloud-based case management programs. Some basic online storage options are Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Mega and iCloud, which offer various services and price ranges for the amount of storage needed. With all of these companies, you can access every file wherever there is access to the internet.
Cloud-based law practice management software
Many law firms are recognizing the benefits of implementing some sort of case management software. Case management software can save time and help firms avoid costly mistakes. Most law practice management software has the ability to concisely and cohesively retain every bit of data about a case and can recall that data at the click of a mouse.
From keeping track of statute of limitations and calendaring of appointments and court deadlines, to tracking case trends and firm outcomes, case management software is an asset. However, as with choosing where to store scanned documents, having your case management data subject to a natural disaster is dangerous. The best practice is to keep the data on the cloud where it can be accessed regardless of circumstances.
How to Choose Law Practice Management Software
There are many law practice manage software, offering an array of services with a large range of pricing, from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. Some software is practice specific, meaning that it is designed specifically to work with a particular area of legal practice — for example, personal injury law or bankruptcy. But many options can be tailored to any kind of practice or many different practice areas at the same time.
Here are some things to consider when searching for the right fit in a law practice management software:
- Email integration: Will Outlook, Gmail, or your email solution integrate with the software? Or will the software provide its own email client? Also, check to see whether the software will provide its own calendaring system or sync with Outlook or Google’s calendar systems (or both).
- Case/matter management: This is the heart of most law practice management systems. The ability to track every aspect of the case is why you pay for this type of software. However, every system is different, offering a different level of management options depending upon your needs and budget.
- Task management: Being able to create a task list on a daily, weekly or monthly basis with the ability to add due dates, attach items to cases or matters, and to assign them to other members of your team is absolutely necessary.
- Conflict checking: Some law firms have thousands of past and current clients at any one time. Being able to quickly and accurately check for conflicts of interests makes taking on new work painless and streamlined.
- Document management and integration: Some case management software platforms offer scanned document management with the ability to attach documents to cases or matters. Also, some allow for integration with outside document management websites such a Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Time keeping and billing: Depending upon the type of practice you have, time keeping and billing is very important. Having the ability to easily input time on a particular matter and to easily generate invoices based upon those inputs helps you have a seamless and efficient practice.
- Trust accounting and basic bookkeeping: Again, you may be interested in a complete package law practice management system that does everything from A to Z, including the firm’s books.
Practice management software options
The following examples are not an exhaustive list of practice management software options on the market today. The options listed below have cloud-based features and are geared toward helping small to medium sized firms. The list also focuses upon less expensive models.
- Amicus Attorney: Amicus Attorney offers a wide range of functions and features, including calendering, matter management, document management, time management, a client portal and billing. It is a good fit for firms that want to be able to work from the cloud or a desktop. Firms looking for templates to streamline workflow may want to consider a sister product, AbicusLaw, which allows firms to customize solutions for service areas.
- Clio: Clio is a cloud-based and user-friendly law practice platform that offers a range of options for adding functionality for law firms. Clio offers time tracking, billing, client management and various mobile apps needed to manage and organize your law firm.
- Rocket Matter: Rocket Matter is a cloud-based productivity-focused law practice management software designed for solo and small firms. Rocket Matter helps organize information about your clients and firm by offering time management and billing software. Rocket Matter integrates with Office 365, QuickBooks Online, Evernote, ScanSnap Cloud, Ruby Receptionists, Box, Dropbox, LexCharge and other applications.
- SmartAdvocate: SmartAdvocate is law practice management software meant for high-volume personal injury law firms. SmartAdvocate has two versions available: a server version, where you install the software on your own server; and a hosted version, available through the cloud and maintained by SmartAdvocate on its own servers. SmartAdvocate also offers document storage, and reports and email integration.
- TrialWorks: TrialWorks offers case management software intended for use by litigation attorneys and staff within law firms of any size. TrialWorks has an intuitive dashboard interface and offers calendar management and scheduling of trial dates, deadlines and more. This software also offers a settlement calculator, billable hour tracking and general accounting.
Before you decide on one product, make sure to spend a lot of time playing with your top contenders. Also spend time with the company sales reps and ask for demonstrations. Point out the sales person what aspects of cloud-based law firm management you are looking for. This will help you find a good fit for your law firm to be successful.
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