While the legal field has traditionally been perceived as slow to adopt new technology, the pandemic has spurred the industry to accept that not only can tangible improvements to both efficiency and productivity be gained, but technology might actually save the business. The necessity to be able to work from home, or anywhere actually, with all the same tools and information as if in the office, has added to the acceptance of new technologies.
As important as the ability to work from anywhere is access to all the information necessary to do the job. Fortunately, the software tools available are very mature and robust, so that it is usually not necessary to request a file from a physical file room.
Practice management software for law firms, corporate legal departments, and governmental agencies increases efficiency through the organization of data and is an essential investment in the future. The software chosen depends on the specific needs of that environment, but there are two main models, or philosophies, of legal practice management software: all-in-one and best-of-breed. This distinction is true whether the software is accessed in the office or via the web.
All-in-one solutions provide both front- and back-office functionality, including: time and billing, accounting, case management, and document management. Examples of all-in-one systems include the platform from traditional vendors and the more recent flood of cloud-based offerings.
Best-of-breed solutions focus on a specific set of capabilities, providing more options for configuration as well as a greater emphasis on functionality. Examples of best-of-breed solutions include the stand-alone vendors of document management, e-discovery, contact management, and case and matter management.
While an all-in-one software package provides front and back-office capability, it will likely lack depth of functionality. If your office is looking for solutions for more than one practice area or has complex needs for storing information and automation, then looking past the all-in-one solutions to a best-of-breed solution will provide for a higher degree of functionality.
Another difference between the all-in-one and best-of-breed systems is the level of configuration. Best-of-breed allows for an a la carte approach to software—each office is allowed to choose which modules best suit its needs and then configure those, as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all approach. The word “configure” may imply a lengthier implementation, but it also allows for a more process-oriented approach and will most likely increase acceptance among users. If an office is looking for a solution for multiple practice areas or more specialized types of law, best-of-breed solutions should provide a tighter fit and allow for adaptation to unique process flows. Most best-of-breed vendors provide templates to help speed the implementation process along.
Integrations are vitally important as well. While an all-in-one solution may provide full coverage for office applications, it may be difficult to incorporate other existing software into the new all-in-one system. In fact, this is the thesis of the philosophy. An all-in-one system will sometimes not allow the office to use any outside software, or, if it does, may have very limited capability. Most best-of-breed solutions offer a broad range of integrations with popular applications, so an office will be able to leverage existing investments in software into a solution that meets specific needs. Specifically, it is common to integrate with an existing document management or accounting system.
One of the most overlooked but very necessary solutions for the organization of matter and case-related data and calendaring is case and matter management software, a best-of-breed subset of practice management software. Its strengths lie in the ability to configure the software to suit the needs of the office. At its core, case and matter management software allows firms and offices to track all matter, case, and contact-related information, including clients, experts, witnesses, additional parties, transaction details, etc. in a single place.
In addition to consolidating necessary related information, case and matter management software enables real-time and ad hoc reporting across departments or practice areas. Reporting and searching across departments and practice areas is one of the most immediate benefits of case management software since time spent searching is time wasted. Another time-saving feature included in best-of-breed case management applications is the automation of tasks, which schedules generation of reports, email notifications, document assembly, and more.
Using document assembly software, either in conjunction with best-of-breed case management software or as part of an all-in-one, will decrease errors by helping to streamline the document generation process. Instead of manually entering data into a form, the data can be pulled from the database, ensuring its accuracy.
Case and matter management software greatly minimizes the risk of error and overlooked deadlines. Calendaring functionality can track important events and tasks for staff and provide reminders for upcoming deadlines. Calendars may also integrate with standard productivity programs, such as Microsoft Outlook.
While at the outset it may seem easier to go with an all-in-one solution it is important to consider other factors including existing software investments and breadth of functionality in relation to the unique needs of the office. If the office already uses time and billing software or document management, it may be best to leverage those existing investments by seeking out a case and matter management solution that will integrate with those systems. Future expansion should also be factored into any purchasing decision. Best-of-breed solutions will be best able to adapt to changing requirements as the office expands and adds practice areas or divisions.
Only after critical assessment of the unique needs of the office, demonstrations of various products, and attention to the details of the product’s functionality should a decision be made. As much as technology allows attorneys and legal staff to be more productive, the results are only as good as the effort made to find the solution that will best suit the office. Considering a best-of-breed solution for case and matter management allows buyers to be confident that their selection will give them the best tools to succeed in the current digital age and well into the future.
About the Author
Philip Homburger is the president and CEO of Synaptec Software, the developer of LawBase, a leading case, matter and practice management solution for law firms, legal departments and government agencies.