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Practice Management Software: when is the right time for a change?

practice management softwareWe all recognise the fact that software dates quite quickly. Practice management software is no different. It is often easier to hang on to your existing software because your staff are familiar with it and because change can be expensive and disruptive.

So, how do you know when the system you are using is coming to the end of its useful life? Here are a few key pointers to help you decide if your software is a little long in the tooth.

“Sunsetting”.

Let’s start with the most obvious one. If you’ve received a “sunsetting” notice from your practice management software supplier, cancel Christmas! These notices usually mean that the current version of your software will no longer be supported or upgraded. This can happen for a variety of reasons, for example: a more modern software version or the buyout of your existing supplier by another company.

Whatever the case, understand the position this leaves you in. Without support, you will be on your own when your systems go wrong or need amending. Without upgrades and patches, your software, over time, will become more vulnerable to hacks and security breaches. This article on ransomware will give you an indication of the worst case scenario. If sunsetting is on the horizon, it’s time to start looking for an alternative.

Lack of integration.

Doubtless you will have seen the claim “fully integrated” on many software packages. “Fully integrated” is a term open to very wide interpretation. It can mean one single package or database managing your data or several packages and databases which slot together. If it is the latter, the real question to ask is does lack of integration cost you time, effort and money? Creating and storing records in a case management system and then having to duplicate the effort to update your accounts package is inefficient.

Don’t just believe what it says on the tin. If effort is being duplicated, it’s an inefficient system. Time to look for an alternative. At the very least your case management, accounts, invoicing, time recording, management reporting and word processing and spreadsheet systems should work together seamlessly.

Is your system compliant?

The latest round of data protection legislation has raised a new set of hurdles for law firms. You can read more about them by following this link. Older or unsupported software is unlikely to cope with these challenges. However, it’s not just about data protection compliance. Your system should be capable of easily handling various checks such as money laundering, ID verification and conflict of interest.

Your software should also enable you to perform regular compliance audits and produce data effortlessly when inspections are due.

How accessible is your System?

practice management software

In the modern world, what is the point of being restricted to your office desktop? Flexible working from home, office, court or client premises is a must. That means being able to access your data just as easily on a laptop, tablet and mobile phone as you can in the office.

If your system restricts you to the office, you should consider a rethink.

Flexibility.

Having good business processes in place for different types of legal work is the key to greater efficiency. It’s also the differentiator that will allow you to respond to clients’ needs more effectively. From a practice management software perspective, that means creating tailored workflows.

A system that is either too old or too inflexible to provide these facilities could eventually become a hindrance.

Are looks deceptive?

This is really a double-barrelled question. On the one hand, it’s great to have a shiny, modern user interface on your software. On the other, whatever the interface looks like, the software must have depth of functionality. Good looking but lightweight is simply not good enough.

In my day to day work, I use a couple of pieces of graphic design software which look long in the tooth. However, they do the job exceptionally well. I would much prefer them to have the appearance of a modern MS Office suite style but not at the expense of power, flexibility and functionality. It’s worth remembering this when looking around for your next system. That said, shiny and modern does not always mean lightweight.

Conversely, if your own software or a prospective new replacement looks like something you’d have used ten years ago, it’s a fairly good indicator that it is not up to scratch in the modern world.

In conclusion.

Deciding whether your existing system is up to par is one thing. Choosing a new one is quite another. When doing so, the points I raised above are well worth considering. However, there are two critical factors that should lead your search:

  1. Will the new system lead to a better service and delivery experience for my clients?
  2. Will the new system make my business more efficient?

The two go hand in glove, but the first is the more important consideration.

You can see a list of legal software suppliers at The Legal Software Suppliers Association website.

Mike O’Donnell, May 2018.

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