For lawyers, having a good practice management program or system is one of the keys to operating a successful law practice. Yet, as with so many technology options, the alternatives and choices appear endless.
You need to be aware of what it is that you are seeking from practice management software. It will organize your law firm's key functions and provide a source for storage and collaboration. A good system will also be a good electronic filing cabinet where you can manage tasks ranging from case and client management issues to sharing billing and document information with other staff members and partners.
Specific needs will vary from firm to firm. Technology should support the business, rather than force business to fit a technology. Certainly the automation of tasks that software frequently does forces changes in the way work is completed, but it comes with the promise of doing things more efficiently.
Key features to consider
1. Calendar & contact management.
Lawyers live by their calendars as much as their clients, so make sure you have software that provides for alerts, deadline alerts and other information. You also need to have a good email address book and contact lists that will give you the ability to check details easily, verify conflict issues and link your contacts to files or cases.
2. Case and matter management.
The whole point of the software is to be able to properly organize and store details about documents, cases, records and the like so that you can see all relevant information easily. A good system will make managing your practice easy and is a key ingredient in good practice management software.
3. Time capture & billing.
Billing is key and while practices vary, most firms use the hourly billing model and you need to have software that will track and manage your time as a core feature. Often the feature will permit you to join a popular email program like Gmail that will highlight documents stored in the system where there is no billing code assigned and so forth.
When it comes to billing you need to be able to generate an invoice easily after the hours worked have been correctly documented.
4. Trust accounting.
It is essential to have a good trust accounting component that will provide an accurate record of all transactions, preventing an overdraw situation and being fully compliant with all trust account requirements.
Practice management solutions with accounting features let a firm manage accounts payable and accounts receivable from the same program, which easily permit the reconciling of expenses, balancing ledgers or making payments.
Make sure there is top-flight backup. If you have cloud-based backup you can avoid costly server costs and upgrades, which makes a good software program more affordable with its freedom from ancillary costs.
Without good support you're stranded, so make sure your software provider can supply the appropriate support for your software. A program can have every bell and whistle known to man, but without support you're on your own with software that may create more frustration than results.
Practice management software will also provide a range of other solutions such as secure file sharing and document exchange functions, so this list provides only a minimum. You will find different offerings but closely consider them to ensure you're getting something that will have the power to let your practice succeed as well as the flexibility to grow.