If you are considering investing in law firm case management software you need to do things in the right order. There is a lot of advice bandied about on the internet, but much of it is not all that good. Too many firms start off by looking at the features that a particular software system offers but this is not the way to go about it. Even firms that undertake an analysis of what they think they need often come up with a list of “must haves” – must have billing, must have a central calendar, etc.
What you really need to do before any of this is to analyse your firm’s long term goals. Long term, because when you decide upon software, even if it is on a monthly billing basis, you are not going to change it every year. It is going to be with you for a few years at least, so you need to think ahead.
For example, if you are a small firm of three or four lawyers with plans to expand, you will have different needs from a sole practitioner planning to stay that way. If you are a small firm but planning to add some remote staff later, you will have different needs from a firm where everyone is in the office. Knowing where you are heading in the future will provide clarity around your core needs, and also the differences in workflow, billing features, etc., that you may require.
Nobody has a crystal ball, but it is also a good idea if you can get an inkling of where technology is heading in the future as well. For example, if automation of documents is going to be an important part of your future it is worth thinking through where that technology may be going in future as well. This will give you a better idea of which software will meet not only your immediate needs, but those for the long term too.
You also want to consider security. Law firms are classed as a high threat cyber-attack risk in any event, but there are other threats as well. For instance, if your practice has lots of paper files and your office caught fire you are going to be in trouble. Can the software take over a lot of these files? If you handle libel cases you need to advise clients on best practice for handling emails and phone communications that could be intercepted by the other side. Can the software help you in any way with specific risks that you face?
One good idea might be to use the services of a law firm technology consultant.
These individuals have an understanding of the different sorts of software out there and can help steer you in the right direction. They can assess your particular requirements and help you think through the implications of this or that software with regard to your workflow and business model, taking into account any specific security needs, pricing preferences, and customisation requirements.
Certainly, you pay a technology consultant a fee, but you need to be aware that most consultants earn a commission when they refer a sale to a particular vendor, and may also earn commissions on ongoing hosting, support, or customisation contracts as well. There is nothing wrong with that but you need to be aware of it. You may wish to have an open discussion about this with a consultant before hiring him, but if he is reluctant to discuss it you might want to consider someone who is frank and open: this, if nothing else, gives you more faith in a consultant.
When you have a clear idea of your own goals, it is time to narrow down your selection to two or three different software vendors. You then need to talk to them and ask them any questions about any particular issues that you can see with the software and make certain that you get the right answers. Many law firm case management software suppliers will offer a free trial period and you can take advantage of this by setting up a dummy test case, or even by using an actual matter and running that through the software to see how well it performs.