By: Christine Bilbrey
Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar
I recently got a call from an attorney who spent $50,000 on custom software that was supposed to help him run his firm more efficiently, but instead proved to be completely useless to him and his staff. I did not have the heart to tell him that for around $50 to $65 per month per user he could have been using an all-inclusive software package that was highly reviewed and guaranteed. For a small firm there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to really good practice management software.
Utilizing quality legal practice management software could be the most important (and best) decision you make at your firm. I cannot stress the following point enough. If you are not using practice management software, whether you are a solo practitioner or a midsize firm, you are making a serious mistake that is costing you time, money, and accuracy. Practicing law and managing a firm can be two full-time jobs. Taking this step will reduce your stress level and the hours of work required to run the business side of your firm. The small amount of money and effort you put into selecting and implementing a good software program will pay big dividends until the day you retire from the practice of law.
When I hear from attorneys who are seeking advice on managing their firms the first question I ask them is, “Are you using practice management software?” I am surprised when so many tell me no. According to the ABA TECHREPORT 2015, “In small firms nearly 50% have case/practice management software available to them, but only 37% report personal use, a decline of 5% from the previous year” (Ferguson, 2015). This would actually be an encouraging number to me if I had read no further and discovered what they consider practice management software. Microsoft Outlook, while a fine product, is not practice management software.
When attorneys decide that they need a program to assist them in managing their firm they are often overwhelmed by the dozens of options on the market. Fear of making the wrong choice can result in not choosing one at all or procrastinating because they feel it will just take too long to wade through the various contenders. The upside is that all of these product offerings have had a positive impact for the consumer. The features are better, the prices are lower, and technical support is readily available at no additional cost.
CosmoLex, Clio, and Rocket Matter are three excellent programs to consider and all provide a free trial period. I was surprised to see that many of the other choices available are still charging maintenance fees, licensing fees, tech support fees and cloud fees in addition to their monthly subscription fees. Cosmolex, Clio and Rocket Matter all offer a lifetime discount for Florida Bar members. All have front and back office functions integrated so that when you need to add a client or update a matter you only do it once. No more wondering if the contact information in your billing program matches what was entered into your conflict checking system.
A good practice management program will include time and expense tracking, billing, trust accounting, document management and calendaring, as well as case and contact management. Some programs have templates and document assembly built-in to save time and increase accuracy. All three programs that I have listed are simple to implement, easy to use, and have beautiful, intuitive dashboards. CosmoLex has both firm accounting and trust accounting features incorporated, but Clio and Rocket Matter can integrate with QuickBooks. Another helpful feature, role-based user security, allows you to pull up a list of users in your office and quickly assign who is allowed to see different sections of the program. If you need your paralegal to be able to see and edit the documents on a case, but do not want him or her to see the accounting for the firm, just check the appropriate boxes to quickly set the access level for the individual.
Data breaches have become a big concern for attorneys considering programs that are cloud based. It is important to note that using reputable cloud based software programs can make it harder for hackers to access your documents or hold your firm hostage with ransomware. In an excellent ABA article entitled Clearing Up the Cloud, the author explores precautions attorneys must consider before they choose a company in order to comply with ethics rules regarding security and privacy. Because all three of the programs I have mentioned are specifically designed for law firms, they offer security levels that meet or exceed what is required. CosmoLex even advertises that all files are stored only on U.S. based servers.
Remember that whichever cloud based program you ultimately choose to implement will have the added benefit of allowing you to safely and easily manage your firm from virtually anywhere. Just please choose one.
The Practice Resource Center’s practice management advisors are available to put their collective experiences as office managers and legal administrators and expertise in information technology to work to assist you. Should you find yourself unsure about a practice management situation or in need of advice regarding a new technology or process, we are here to help. We can be reached from 8:00 AM – 5:30 PM Monday through Friday via telephone at 1-866-730-2020, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or live chat on our website LegalFuel.com.