By Kelly Clifford
I often hear from attorneys how many systems they are using and how long it takes to use them together effectively. These attorneys are running completely different systems for document management, case management, client billing, and office accounting. They are looking to consolidate these systems, so everything they need to run their office is in one place. Having all this information in one place allows them to focus on practicing law rather than working on administrative tasks or searching for documents, emails, and files.
As a business owner, you need a window into all parts of your organization. Having a complete picture of the company workflow in one location enables you to make decisions quickly. In the business of law, time is money.
Consolidating your paper files into a single digital storage system allows you to integrate them with all your legal forms, time recording, and office billing. You will improve the productivity of your staff, create overall efficiencies, and reduce the cost of your required software. Moving to one central system also makes it easier to keep your clients up to date on the progress of their case. You can instantly share updates about a case with your client because all the information you need is accessible wherever you can connect to the internet.
The risks involved with having multiple databases
Getting tangled up in a web of numerous products makes the operation of your law firm complicated and dangerous.
Imagine you have a different product for each part of your business. You might have case information in one piece of software, accounting in another, and documents stored separately on your computer or server.
You have your secretary or paralegal who is responsible for information about the case, your new client details, the other parties’ information, and information relating to the area of law. They then enter this information into your case management system.
You then have your bookkeeper who is responsible for entering the same client and case information into your billing system, along with the financials, retainer received, and so forth.
Then you must store all your documents for this new case somewhere. Most firms have a folder for each case set up either on their server, computer, or other document storage system. You can typically store your incoming and outgoing documents on here, but it is a manual process to get them there. There is also the added risk of your staff making a mistake. They could save over something important, save something to the wrong file, or save it to their desktop where no one else can find it or access it.
Finally, you would store your outgoing and incoming emails inside Outlook or another email platform. Your staff will rarely remember to save a copy of the email to the client file, or print a copy of the email and put it in the file.
In addition to this, you need to ensure that all this data is backed up somewhere in case a power surge or flood destroys your server or computer. Are all your systems, including time recording, billing, case management, document management, and emails backed up separately? Restoring these backups could be costly and time consuming.
Human error happens, and having multiple separate systems where different members are entering the information means they could make a mistake. Mistakes when entering information could result in documents or bills sent to the wrong client.
When staff members silo data or documents on their computers, they will often forget or not have enough time to add them to the correct system. This is how information gets lost. You don’t want to be without your firm’s data in the event of an emergency.
Are these risks you want to take at your firm?
Allow for mobility
How do you access your information when you are out of the office?
Generally, firms with a server purchase remote access software, which allows their attorneys to log in to their office desktop computer.
However, it can take a significantly longer time to load and move through the documents you need when you access them remotely. How often are you out of the office and your client calls you asking a question about the case? Every 3-5 minutes it takes to remotely log in irritates your client and takes up valuable time.
Maybe you are already able to access all your case and client information from wherever the internet is available without a remote login. But do you have access to everything you need from only one app or program?
The recent advancement of legal technology makes it possible to access all your case and client information, time recording, retainers, and client billing information from one mobile phone app. With entirely mobile access, it is possible not even to have to hang up the phone to get all the information your clients want. You can help them no matter where you are, whether you are at court, in the car, or even on an airplane.
Not having everything in one location, accessible from your phone, tablet, or laptop and office computer, is not much different than working with manila folders. Like sifting through loads of paper trying to find the brief you are working on, you will have to search through countless digital folders and files across multiple systems.
With a system available across every device, you can also keep your staff up to date, in real-time, with any case. With a legal mobile app, you can record comments from meetings, automatically capture time on calls made from your cell phone to the correct matter, and even scan documents like court orders into the file by simply taking a photo of them with your phone.
Imagine you are in court. Without calling someone in the office or getting your manila folder out, wouldn’t you like to be able to quickly:
Check your case information;
Find a document for the judge;
Find an email from opposing counsel;
Scan a document;
Send your client important information; or
Record your time for billing?
Do you want to record more time and better serve your clients by making your practice mobile?
Saving the firm money
As a business owner, when you are looking for software for your law firm, sometimes you make purchases based on what you feel the firm needs at the time.
For example, you may feel that you can run your cases effectively right now, but you want to be billing more time. You decide to invest in an accounting product. You do not want to have massive overhead for this because right now you are looking to improve your cash flow. So you look for the cheapest product out there that gives you what you need.
Later, your business starts to grow, and you feel the need to start keeping better track of your cases. You head to the market looking for a case management system. Again, you find an inexpensive system that is only for case management.
The two products exclusively serve a purpose and are enough to meet the office’s needs. You have two inexpensive products that handle two separate parts of your business, but you are paying more than you should. Operating multiple disconnected systems costs you and your staff valuable billable hours lost to double data entry.
Have you examined the total cost of all the different systems you use? Have you researched to find out if there is a single platform that provides all these components for one price?
The table below will assist you in doing a cost analysis of what you need to run your practice. Then you will be ready to investigate integrated systems at a lower monthly total cost.
Investing in the future of your business
Training staff to use your firm’s software should be easy. Using multiple systems means that your staff needs to learn how to use each one effectively. Using various systems makes it harder to replace staff members due to extensive training requirements. It is also a roadblock to adding new staff as your practice grows. Having one system in place for everything means only one system to train your entire office on. With one system handling every aspect of your law firm, growth and succession planning are much more straightforward.
I encourage you, as a business owner, to invest in one version of the truth for your law firm. Fully mobile access to all your case, client, billing, and time recording information from anywhere you have internet access will fundamentally change your business. You will save time and make more money because staff members are more efficient. Making the switch will turn you into a more productive boss and lawyer.