A Series on Technology: Practice Management Software
For some, this recent crisis was manageable because they were already accustomed to working remotely. For others, it’s proven a nightmare. This is our second installment on technology. You can bury your head in the sand and wait for all this to pass, or you can embrace the new technology available for your practice. It doesn’t require an IT degree or an IT department. Incorporating advances in technology into your practice is easier now than it has ever been. Even if you had stuck your toe in the sea of new technology, now is the time to wade in a little deeper. How can technology help your practice? How hard is it?
Let’s talk about practice management software.
Practice management software helps you and your team manage matters or files. These programs are essentially attractive and user-friendly templates for a robust database of information. Or they should be. They allow easy access to critical practice management information which has many uses.
There has been a great deal of advances in practice management systems in the last few years. What was state-of-the-art a few years ago may not be anymore. There is a lot more competition in this market, which is good for us, the consumers. Innovations have forced some old mainstays to either kick it up a notch or lose some market share. Many have. Some have simply not kept pace with the industry and are instead relying on the loyalty and lethargy of their clients.
Don’t assume that it’s easier to keep what you have rather than switching providers. Virtually all of the new and innovative systems can readily and easily convert your old data to the new system or otherwise help you cost-effectively manage a transition.
Contact data for clients, other parties, witnesses, experts, and other lawyers should all be readily accessible and easily used.
You should be able to generate helpful lists such as referral sources for your marketing efforts, the current and former clients in a particular industry, experts used or encountered in other cases, and lawyers with whom you have dealt.
They can also help in your client relationship management. Think of this as the management of potential clients. Tracking and following up with potential clients can make sure you don’t lose someone that is already in the door. You can coordinate your efforts with the others on your team through the system as well.
Even the most rudimentary practice management software does so much more than keep up with people.
Most also store (most in the cloud) or provide a link (hopefully in the cloud) to case-specific documents (even emails), so that all documents relating to a particular matter can be easily seen or referenced in one place. Some incorporate emails seamlessly and some require a little more effort. But everyone on the team knows where to put and where to find what they are looking for with respect to that matter or client.
Most practice management systems also contain a calendar.
They have a master calendar where you can see all your appointments and deadlines broken down by day, week, month, etc., but you can also view case-specific calendars. And again, these are shared with everyone working on the file. This is also a good backup system for your calendar and deadlines so that nothing is missed.
Practice management systems usually also contain some sort of task list or lists. They are usually file specific but can be sorted and viewed in a host of ways. Some even let you make assignments and keep up with the progress toward completion of each one or of an overall goal. This can help you manage your time and also manage a file. They also help you coordinate and manage the various projects required on a particular matter amongst your team.
Practice management systems can also integrate into your billing and accounting functions, whether by handling them or allowing integration with other dedicated software. You can track work in process for timekeepers or by matter, review the total billings on a file or for a timekeeper for a given period, and track accounts receivable. Having readily accessible financial information about your files can prove invaluable. It can also help you meet billing goals.
If you plan to access your practice management system from your phone or a tablet, you need to make sure that it is mobile-capable or has a robust app.
Many practice management systems are also cloud-based, which easily allow access from anywhere there is an internet connection. Some also provide you with cloud-based storage for your documents. This can save the extra costs and redundancy associated with a separate document management system or at least save you some storage space on one.
Most practice management systems have a dashboard of some sort, usually customizable, which provides you information at a glance that you want to see, such as deadlines today, meetings or appointments today, your billing goals for the day, your billings so far in the day, etc.
There are some practice management systems out there that do all of this and more, from document/form generation, to automated emails, to electronic document signatures. And the ones which off the most aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Think outside your usual box
Some systems are better geared toward different practice types. Ask for references. Ask your colleagues what they use and why. Ask them what they like about what they use and what they don’t (or would change). Get a demo of the new system. Many providers have them readily available online.