Hi all, so we took a few weeks off from posts. I was in trial, then at a sentencing (separate cases), and then in yet a third jurisdiction for a first appearance and negotiations with the DA. Suffice it to say, my car now has many more miles than this time just two weeks ago. So, what happens when I’m out of the office that long? Glad you asked! The office continues to run like a well-oiled machine–but blog posts may be delayed. Policies and procedures and practice management techniques work for all of my subcontractors in my absence, and I can access my entire office remotely, too. (See this post about working virtually and of course this one about the home office law practice).
You know what else helps? Practice management software. Practice management software is a must-have in today’s modern law practice. Ask any solo or small firm practitioner: managing a law practice is incredibly difficult! It’s basically like two jobs rolled into one because you have to manage the practice at the same time you’re managing your client’s cases. It’s no surprise, then, that solo and small firm practitioners gravitate to law practice management software.
Figuring out which solution(s) to use requires some careful thinking and forethought. It’s obviously not impossible to regularly switch from software platform to software platform, but doing so certainly doesn’t create efficiencies. It’s important, then, to pick the right solution for your firm’s needs. And if you’re considering changing the tools your firm uses to manage clients, cases, and operational issues, here are some things to think about.
Considering Current Needs and Future Opportunities
Understanding what you need your law practice management software to do is an essential first step in selecting a solution. Go into this exploration with an open mind: you may discover a solution that does things for your firm that you didn’t even know you needed it to do!
Here are some of the top-level features to consider:
- Time and billing tracking
- Document assembly
- Case management
- Conflict of Interest check
- Business and Trust Accounting
Within and across these broad functions, consider any number of capabilities:
- Document retrieval and search capabilities
- File organization and management
- Colleague and/or client messaging
- Integration with legal research services
- Email integration
Finally, as solo and small firm practitioners are increasingly managing our practices on the go, it’s important to find a solution that provides both desktop and mobile functionality. I’m rarely at my desk (see intro above!), so my firm wouldn’t survive without mobile-optimized practice management tools.
Finding a Solution that Works for You
There are tons of different software options out there today. Clio is arguably the largest and most well-known. It’s an incredibly powerful platform, which might be intimidating to attorneys who feel that the software’s functionalities are too extensive. But (and I don’t personally use Clio, so I can’t attest to this), Clio claims to offer flexibility in selecting and tailoring various functionalities.
Despite Clio’s dominance in some practice circles, there are other options available: MyCase, Firm Central, Lexicata, Practice Panther, etc. The list is long and it can be a bit overwhelming at first, but I recommend you dive into it and start narrowing down your options. There are tons of review sites out there:
- Capterra Law Practice Management Software
- Lawyerist Law Practice Management Software reviews
- ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, Practice and Case Management Software (Apr. 6, 2017)
It can be a bit overwhelming once you start looking into all the available options, but doing your research is essential. And don’t just look at the price and move on; you shouldn’t consider that piece in isolation from what the software will do for your firm (and the cost efficiencies you’ll gain as a result). Sometimes, though, it’s not necessary to go all-in. A criminal defense practice, like what I run doesn’t have a lot of deadlines (at least not that would not be served well by a simple Google calendar entry) and most of us can work our cases without the aid of a complex system.
The Nicol Gersch Petterson Offices, LLC Solution to Practice Management
I use a mix of tech, because I like my firm to be agile and not tied to any single law practice management software. Here’s what my suite of solutions looks like.
Intake: There are numerous tools for client intake, many built into the software solutions I mentioned above. But I use a more streamlined approach: a ten-question, interactive form that is embedded in my website through Typeform. Zapier is a tool that connects various apps and automates workflows, and I use this to automatically log a potential client’s contact information once they submit a form into a CRM system powered by Copper, which integrates seamlessly into Gmail.
Online Calendaring: It’s amazing how much time you can free up when software coordinates across your calendars to identify availability for clients. I use Acuity Scheduling, through which clients (or anyone, for that matter) can schedule time to talk/meet with me. It coordinates across multiple calendars, so I don’t have to do much other than keep my schedule current. AND I just got it inserted into my WiseStamp email signature so folks who are emailing with me can schedule a call with a single click.
Remote Receptionist: It’s pretty normal, as any solo practitioner knows, for clients to call you at all hours. And I do mean all hours. In order to create some separation between my office line and the rest of my life, I’ve started using a remote receptionist tool. Through Smith.ai, I have a remote reception service staffed by real people working at my direction. They will even initiate calls to remind clients
Live Chat: I’m just about to add this function to my website, and I’m super excited. A live person will staff the chat line during work hours; a chatbot will take over after hours to give late-nite Googlers the inside scoop on basic NLO info. Check back soon for a report on this!
While this multiple-solution approach isn’t for every firm, it works wonders for me and allows my team to be agile and continuously connected to clients.
Have you incorporated practice management software into your law practice? Do you have additional tips or resources that would be of interest to the modern legal practitioner? Please comment here!