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Legal case management software: a no-nonsense guide

legal case management softwareThe market for legal case management software is overcrowded. So, how do you to know which supplier is right for you? How do you differentiate between the, ahem… “nonsense” and the no-nonsense suppliers?

Before you look at the plethora of suppliers, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself, your firm and your client base.

What do you need?

You probably believe legal case management software is all about making you and your practice more efficient.  That’s completely the wrong place to start. There are a number of points to consider but the starting point is making your clients happier. The hierarchy of needs is as follows:

  1. Making the client experience of your services exceptional.
  2. Allowing ease of use for yourself and your staff.
  3. Avoiding duplication of effort caused by disparate, non-integrated IT systems.
  4. Allowing you to work from anywhere.

With those boxes ticked, you’ll very quickly find your practice becomes more efficient and profitable.

What’s in the box?

Examine what the software provider offers to supply carefully. Perhaps you won’t need all the functionality of their system but there is a basic shopping list that should determine your minimum requirements from them:

To find out more about each of these components, follow this link.

Integration?

You may well find some of the components on the list above are not included. Some suppliers bundle third-party software with their own to make up for this deficit. In many cases, this will be Microsoft Office licences and accounting software.

There are two issues to consider here. Firstly, will third-party software integrate seamlessly with the legal case management software? Or will it mean duplication of work inputting data into two systems? Try to steer clear of the latter. Inefficiency costs money. Secondly, consider the financial implications. The case management system may well come at a cheap and cheerful price. However, you need to look at how much you are going to pay over that for third-party components. Not all suppliers will highlight this fact. The best systems are usually complete ones which use a single database for both case management and accounts.

Flexibility.

Most modern legal case management software is cloud-based. However, there are server-based alternatives. The latter brings with it the responsibility and cost of buying, maintaining and updating the hardware.

LawWare provides both alternatives to meet the demands of its clients. When making the choice, you should consider flexibility. Cloud solutions can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. That means you can work as easily at home or at court as you can in the office. Cloud is also its own disaster recovery plan. If the country goes into lockdown due to a virus outbreak, you can continue to work.

Get a demo.

Once you have identified the features you need and have assembled a shortlist of suppliers, ask for product demonstrations. A demo will allow you to make a hands-on evaluation of the system. Bring several of your colleagues with you as more heads are better than one. During this process you may be offered remote or online demos. Those are fine, but don’t be afraid to ask for an on-site visit.

What does “support” really mean?

This is a critical question. There’s bound to be a few hiccoughs when you introduce a new system. So, you should ask your supplier three things:

  1. Is initial and ongoing training available?
  2. Is support provided when issues arise?
  3. Are both of these included in the price?

Consider the availability, scope, and cost of training and support before making the leap. At the very least, you should be able to speak directly with a UK-based support person who is knowledgeable about the product and the practice of law. Beware online chat support!

Check out the pricing structure.

Firstly, check out what the price includes. Does it include:

  • Training?
  • Updates?
  • Support?
  • Onboarding from your previous system?

Is it an upfront cost with a small monthly retainer? Or is it purely a monthly fee? Can you scale your usage to meet jumps in demand for your services and additional staff?

Above all, check two key things: the length of the contract and if the monthly fee is fixed. We come across many law firms at LawWare who have signed up with competitors for low monthly fees, only to find the fees double or triple after year 1. That’s no fun when you are trapped in a 3 year contract.

You should be looking for suppliers who have set fees that last the duration of your contract and who allow you to leave the contract with a reasonable period of notice. If you are on the receiving end of a low-cost introductory offer; barter. Ask for 18 months or 2 years at the fixed low price.

Ask the tricky questions.

For practice management and accounts software, choose a specialist rather than a generalist. The Solicitor’s Accounts Rules require specialist software to ensure your compliance. That done, look for a practice management supplier that specialises in the English or Scottish legal systems. Then, with a much smaller shortlist, ask each candidate a series of questions:

  1. What commitments to availability and performance of the services do you provide?
  2. Where will my data be held?
  3. How easily can I get data back, both during and at the end of the service?
  4. Is your software compliant with Law Society and SRA regulations?
  5. What backup arrangements do you provide if the service goes down?
  6. What security arrangements are in place?
  7. If using a shared rack in a shared data centre, what would happen to my data if another customer’s server on my shared rack were seized, perhaps by a regulator for investigatory purposes?

That last one will sort out the wheat from the chaff. Always check out the fine print.

Making your decision.

There are many things to consider and lots of legal case management software systems on the market. Once you have taken a long hard look at all of the above, consider the following:

  • Can you configure the software to fit the specific needs of your practice?
  • Can you customise the software (to create your own reports and house style) without assistance from the software provider?
  • Is it easy to retrieve and report on the data collected by the software?
  • Does the software handle Making Tax Digital?
  • Can it help with GDPR and AML compliance?

When you’ve done all that, consult with your peers and friendly competitors. You might think a competitor is unlikely to tell you that they made the wrong choice. However, you may be surprised by what you hear. Certainly ask them which software they rejected and why when they made their decision.

Never mind all the nonsense out there, make your decision wisely.

Mike O’Donnell, March 2020.

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