What is the best way to run your law firm? – one IT system or many?

best way to run your law firmAsking the question: “What is the best way to run your law firm?” can release a myriad of skeletons from the closet.

However, when it comes to the use of technology, the choice is straightforward. You can use one integrated system or a combination of many. Let’s take a look at both options.

Multiple systems.

So, what do multiple systems mean? The most common multiple system method is to use one software package for your accounts and another for your case management. That said, there are many examples of separate packages for time recording and billing, client relationship management and others.

You can even argue that your MS Office programmes are separate systems. If they don’t interact with your case management system, they are.

Multiple systems give you the impression that you are using the highest quality piece of kit for each sub-division of the overall task as opposed to a generalist, all things to all people system. Don’t let this idea hoodwink you. If they don’t work together without duplication of effort, they are an expensive bagatelle.

The bottom line is your multiple systems have to work seamlessly together. “Together” means with neither duplication of effort nor escalation of cost.

Single systems.

So then, are single systems just lightweight, all things to all people solutions? Do they not have the depth of each of the components of a multiple system? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself when making this choice.

There are many reputable single systems on the UK market. LawWare is just one of these. However, please note that there is a big difference between a single system and what can be described as an integrated system. Often the word integrated is used to describe a single system where all component parts work together. At other times it is used to describe two or more systems which work (or don’t work) together. A little more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at what you should expect from a single system.

What is the minimum requirement for a single system?

For a something that purports to be a single system, it really has to cover the majority of the bases in your business. The following list, though not exhaustive, is my idea of the minimum requirement:

It’s quite a long list. However, the fact that all these components of the legal work process come under one roof in a single system means less duplication of work and greater productivity.

The winner?

So, if you are looking at multiple systems, the key things to look for are integration, productivity, cost and support. They are all related.

Integration and Productivity.

Not having to do the same thing twice on separate systems leads to greater productivity. If your billing and accounting system is pretty much automated as a result of using the case management module, your time is freed up. You can concentrate on the often forgotten aspects of running a legal business – like marketing.


Support is another thing to look out for when making your choice. There are bound to be days when things go wrong. Or days when you want to learn how to do something new with the software. Will the support be available? Will it be provided by the vendor of the software or a third party? Is it based in the UK? Can you speak to a human being rather than just a web-based chat system?

For support, cost also enters the equation. The cost of the level of support you demand is one consideration. Also think about the cost to your business if you cannot get that support when you need it.

Finally, on support, take a long hard look at how support will be delivered if you run multiple systems. Will the support from different suppliers dovetail seamlessly? Or will one software supplier end up passing the buck to the other when it all goes wrong?


Of course, it’s the headline cost that grabs all the attention. Single systems from a single supplier can appear more expensive on the surface. Multiple systems tend to be cheaper – but they only do a part of the job. Support costs may be built into the overall price or supplied as an additional service with a charge. Your MS Office costs may be part of the price or an additional overhead.

But it’s not just the headline costs that need counting. If you are considering multiple systems, add up all the headline and support costs. Then think about what it will cost if system integration is imperfect – you’ll have to pay someone to migrate the duplicated data. Lastly, try to add in the hidden cost of lost productivity when multiple systems fail to work smoothly together.


Single system hands down for me every time. Okay, Okay, what would you expect me to say when I work for LawWare – a single system supplier! Think of it another way. It’s no accident that I work for LawWare rather than another supplier.

Marketing a single system is far easier than marketing a system that does half the job – I’m not daft. It’s the same for you – running your legal office with a single system is easier.

Beware the “I word”!

I’ll round this off with a word of caution. When you are shopping around for legal software you will hear the word “integrated” bandied about a lot. The Oxford Dictionaries define it as:

Integrated adjective

BrE /ˈɪntɪɡreɪtɪd/
[usually before noun]

​in which many different parts are closely connected and work successfully together

When it comes to legal technology, some suppliers use the word to describe their system. Sometimes they neglect to point out that their system does one part of the job and somebody else’s does the rest (say, case management and accounts). Then they leave you to find out how closely connected they are and how successfully they work together for yourself. And, of course, what the additional costs are.

A friend of mine once “integrated” his car into his gate post. Neither the car nor the gate post did what they were supposed to do afterwards. I’m not someone who goes through life thinking the world is full of charlatans and mountebanks; we all have a living to make. However, here is a short list of some of the most common integration dissemblances:

  1. It’s a single integrated system – no it isn’t. It’s someone else’s accounts package bolted on to your case management system.
  2. The integrated accounts system is built for law firms – no it isn’t, it’s a third party, generalist proprietary accounts system.
  3. Your accountant will prefer you to use a proprietary accounts system – no he or she won’t. Or, alternatively, get a new accountant.
  4. The software is a full accounts system – really? Does it include office accounts (nominals) as well as client accounts?

So, when you hear the word integrated in tech. speak, delve deeper.

Sean Town & Mike O’Donnell, July 2019.

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