What do you have to pay attention to when you want to automate your law practice? We’re presenting you a two-part article with a check list. In the first part, we focus on the necessary modules and offer some thoughts on technology. In a second part, we will focus on optional modules and additional functionality.
Essential functionality overview
As a rule, any legal case management software should offer the following functionality:
- Contact Management
- Case Management
- Document Management
- Task Management
- Billing & Invoicing
- Client Portal
Lawyers don’t just deal with customers. They deal with a wide range of people and legal entities, in different capacities and roles. This is why many regular CRM programs won’t be sufficient. A decent contact management module is the cornerstone of any well-functioning law firm.
As a lawyer, you work on cases. You need to meticulously keep track of everything that’s going on in the cases and the matters you’re handling. Typically, your case management is the central hub of your software that ties in with all other modules.
There are two aspects to document management. On the one hand, as a lawyer you are likely to be confronted with thousands of documents, which may or may not pertain to one or more cases. You need a system to store, allocate and retrieve documents efficiently. On the other hand, as a lawyer, you constantly produce documents as well. That is the second aspect of Document Management: you need a module or app for document assembly (sometimes called an ‘act generator’). It uses templates that are filled out with the relevant data relating to the case.
You also need to keep track of everything you have done, and everything you still have to do. Time Management in its widest sense covers several aspects, and often consists of several modules or apps. In order to increase efficiency, most programs work with predefined lists of frequently recurring tasks. Typically, there will be an app for fee management linked to that, that allows you to define default fees for specific tasks. You also will want the program to keep track of all the tasks you have already performed. As many lawyers work with a system of billable hours, a module for time tracking may come in handy, too.
You not only want to keep track of what you’ve done already, you also need to keep track of what you still have to do. As a lawyer, specific tasks often have to be performed at specific times, which is why you need an agenda and/or calendaring app.
Billing & Invoicing
Once you keep track of all the tasks you have performed, billing and invoicing becomes a piece of cake. Typically, the billing / invoicing module will not only allow you to create invoices. It also will allow you to generate statements, work with commissions, create intermediary overviews, etc.
Ideally, your legal case management software should also have an accounting module that keeps track of all the payments you make and receive. Alternatively, your firm may want to use existing accounting software. If an accounting module is not included, then you should make sure there is a seamless integration between your legal case management software and the existing accounting software. And if you are dealing with third party payments, where you collect money on behalf of your clients, make sure the accounting module is designed to process those payments, as well.
As our articles on the new legal consumers indicated, these days a client portal is a must, too. A client portal is a place on the Internet where your customers can view, and possibly edit, their own data. Usually it’s a web site that is accessible with a browser, but it could just as well be a mobile app. In the context of law firms, client portals offer clients to ability to get an overview of their case or cases: what has been done, what still needs to be done, what has been billed, what has been paid, what third party payments have been received, etc. Often, a client portal will also offer the built-in ability to directly communicate with the client, allowing the client to ask questions.
An additional note on technology
These days, the majority of people are online on mobile devices. The software you choose should be able to offer web access, either through apps for mobile devices, and/or through mobile friendly web pages. Most leading software packages for legal case management are using cloud technology, be it private, hybrid or public cloud technologies, allowing you and your clients to access information from anywhere, at any time. Make sure you’re not choosing software that can’t be accessed over the Internet.
Continued in Legal Case Management Software Checklist (part 2)