Whether your law firm employs many attorneys across multiple practice areas, or you are a solo practitioner, you face many challenges with managing a law practice. This can be especially true for a personal injury law firm. Still, any legal practice must manage its resources efficiently to remain competitive. Consumers are increasingly demanding instantaneous answers and results in this era of technological advancements and smartphone apps. They demand the same from their attorney, even though the halls of justice move slowly.
Cloud-Based Law Firm Management Software
Meeting these challenges means adopting law practice management software appropriate to your practice. The software will streamline your processes so that you can meet your clients’ needs while managing a profitable, efficient law firm.
Software companies introduced law practice management software decades ago. However, the most current software is cloud-based, and it provides much more robust functionality while giving you 24/7 access to your data from any internet-enabled device. Cloud-based software offers convenient, mobile access to your case information at a cost-effective price.
Cloud-based legal practice management software became commercially available in 2008. It is now the preferred option because many software companies are phasing out their on-site solutions. Some of the top programs include PracticePanther, MyCase, Clio, Abacus Law and Bill4Time. However, the marketplace offers many more to suit a wide array of needs.
Determine Your Needs First
Before you sign a contract with a cloud-based software provider, do some research and check online reviews. Your law firm and its integration partners will be hosting confidential data, and you have ethical obligations to ensure the information is handled correctly. This includes knowing how access to the data, how and when backups will occur, methods of exporting data and how the data is formatted.
As you research the features of each software program, keep in mind the strengths of each program. Some software companies offer built-in functions, some provide additional features through third-party tools and others will use a mix of both approaches.
Another key feature to consider is the price. Most cloud-based software has a base price. However, many software developers offer tiered pricing that includes additional functionalities in the higher tiers. Integration may be included in the upper tiers; however, you may need to pay a subscription fee for the practice management software and integration tools. You may need to pay a higher subscription fee for access to integrations.
Most cloud-based law practice software offers basic, common features necessary to run a law firm. You will need to determine any needs that your firm has beyond the basic functions. It’s crucial to make these determinations in advance. Take time to identify the most important issues you hope to resolve by adopting cloud-based software. Then select the platform that best resolves your problems.
These are the features most commonly offered with cloud-based legal practice management software:
- Document management. Most software includes document management features, which provide a straightforward, robust system to organize documents. Many companies offer document sharing and collaboration options that enable you to use secure external sharing with co-counsel, clients and experts.
- Task management. Law firm management software will include task management, which enables you to assign and manage tasks. Most task management functions also offer calendar management features. You may want the ability to create task templates for individual cases. These templates allow you to automatically calendar key dates while relating them to other key dates in your caseload. Some software offers rules-based calendar functions. These apply statutory deadlines, court rules and dues dates in your specific jurisdiction. It’s important to determine which type of calendar you want to keep. Once you have the calendar established, it can be tedious to switch to a different type.
- Time tracking. What is more important than accurately tracking your billable time? Cloud-based software enables you to enter and track your time in one step on your mobile device. You log and charge for all of your billable time. Plus, you can see very clearly where you are losing productivity with activities that don’t result in billable time. If you have attorneys working for you, you will see their non-productive time as well.
- Legal billing and invoicing. This feature will help you reduce wasting your productive, billable time spent on invoicing the clients. This feature is integrated with the time tracking system and automatically generates invoices based on your billable time entered through the time tracking function. Most software offers billing features that are LEDES compliant. Once the invoice is complete, you can send it immediately to the client for payment.
- Client payments. You’ve efficient tracked, captured and invoiced all of your billable time. Now, you need to collect that payment. Today’s law firm management software includes client payment portals as well. This feature allows your clients to pay with ACH payments or credit cards as soon as they receive the invoice.
- Secure communication. As an attorney, you have to abide by the ABA ethics standards. You need legal practice management software that stays on top of developments and implements them quickly and accurately. This is especially crucial because of Formal Opinion 477 of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Issued in 2017, the opinion states that encrypted email may not be adequate for client communications. It advises attorneys to assess each case separately. For cases with particularly sensitive information, a more secure portal may be necessary. Most legal practice software has such communication portals. If your practice has an abundance of highly sensitive cases, you will want to ensure that the portals meet the necessary guidelines.
These are the basic features you should be seeking from cloud-based law practice management software. The list is not exhaustive. Some software comes with options for highly sophisticated functions. A thorough review of your company’s needs will help you determine which functions address those needs. If you haven’t already implemented law practice management software, you may lose out to the competition. Find the right platform for your practice and enjoy higher productivity and streamlined operations.