Once a lawyer has decided that they need a new practice management system, the options available can be bewildering. Alongside some of the major players, there are dozens of smaller and specialist systems. Which case management software will be best for your firm?
We firstly suggest that every company looks at how their firm operates on a day-to-day and strategic basis, and then decides what is most important to them in a system. For example, firms working on niche cases might need a high level of customisability. Firms working on high volume, lower margin cases might need more advanced time tracking and budgeting features. Too many firms make the mistake of choosing a system with all the ‘bells and whistles’, but then find the functionality doesn’t quite meet their needs.
Having said that, we do suggest that firms ensure that their case management system has a set of baseline features that all lawyers should be using in their firm. If you are getting a case management system for the first time, you may not have used these in your business before – but trust us, you will want to!
Most lawyers have a baseline set of documents that can be adapted to multiple clients e.g. letters of engagement, contracts, requests for information. Document templates can be used to automate this process – creating client documents in seconds rather than minutes or hours.
A template is set up with database fields inserted e.g. client name, address, opposing solicitor. The template will then populate your document with information from your case management system.
This is one of the key timesaving features of a case management and most lawyers see quick ROI in terms of efficiency. You do need to check the level of field customisation available – whilst being able to input basic fields such as ‘name’ is useful, being able to customise to the information required in your specific field is more useful.
2. Time recording
Time recording is a must for hourly billing, fixed fees or other alternative fee arrangements in order to ensure profitability.
A case management system should make tracking and reporting on time significantly easier. Users will be able to add time into the system in real time and many systems come with timers which you can start and stop as you work on tasks.
The real time savings here come in the management of time. No more amalgamating spreadsheets, or recording time and then having to spend more time adding it into a separate system. Time reports should be available on an individual, company, file and client basis. This doesn’t just help with billing clients correctly and justifying fee levels – it can also be used as a basis for profitability metrics that will help your firm increase your bottom line.
On average, SME law firms collected 1.6 hours’ worth of fees for every 2.4 billable hours worked in 2018.
Whilst there are many reasons for this, delays in billing is often one contributory factor. When using a case management system, all of the case data should be available to you as soon as a billable milestone is reached. With a few clicks, this can be converted to a bill and send to the clients.
You should save time on collating relevant information for a bill, creating the bill itself and should increase your realisation of bills as well.
4. Email tracking
Whilst document management is undoubtedly useful, a lot of relevant case information will be sent to you via email. Without a case management system, this information is siloed within an individual’s inbox – if that individual is away for any reason, it can be difficult for another person to take up the case because they are not aware of the most recent correspondence.
A case management system should allow you to log emails within the file so that they can be seen by everyone working on the case. This provides a reliable audit trail for management and helps with business efficiency/ continuity. Annual or sick leave can be covered more easily and team members will no longer be kept waiting for critical case details because they are trapped in another team member’s inbox.
5. Brief generation
Putting a brief together manually involves a lot of time-consuming data administration, especially if the briefs are lengthy or complex. With a case management system, documents, emails and other files can be structured into the order that you would like and created automatically. For cases involving briefs, this can save hours of administration each time.
Some case management systems will promise brief generation, but in reality will require you to purchase a third party brief generator. If this is the case, ensure that you assess both systems individually and factor additional fees into your case management costings. A cheaper system may be more expensive when all additional third party costs are added.
6. Accounts integration
Legal accounting is more complex than general business accounting and lawyers need to be able to satisfy country and Law Society-specific regulations. Integrating your accounting and case management systems allows you to transfer information easily between the two, saving you time.
Systems will have different ways of handling this, so ensure that you are happy with how it operates. Some will have one all-inclusive system, some handle client accounts within the case management system and some handle client accounts within the accounting system.
7. Phone messages
This is one that many first time case management users do not think of, but can be very useful. Instead of using emails or post-its, phone messages can be logged on your case management system. This not only prevents messages being lost on people’s desks, it also provides for greater business continuity and accountability. If a client is repeatedly ringing the Reception, if someone is absent and they’ve missed an urgent message, this can be easily managed by the business.
Reporting on individual features has been covered within many of the points above. However, it is worth mentioning in its own right as well. A surprising number of SME law firms understand their headline financial figures, but do not have detailed insights into case or individual level activity, productivity and profitability. This data is critical for helping law firms understand what is/ isn’t working, get smarter and improve their firm operations. When fully utilised, case management systems can provide data and insights that change businesses for the better.
Whilst the specific requirements for each law firm are unique, you should be able to use these eight features as a starting point when it comes to evaluating and choosing case management software. A software which combines all of these features can provide significant time savings, insights and better business continuity for your firm.