We look at the many ways case management software can improve your solo or small law practice in a recording of a recent program with the Hampshire County Bar Association.
This program was part of a series we recently offered live as a collaboration with and exclusive to the Hampshire County Bar Association, a service organization composed of attorneys, and is dedicated to improving the quality of the practice of law in this county by providing support to the community, the bench and the bar on relevant local issues. The organization’s purpose is to maintain the honor of the profession, to promote the administration of justice, to advance the science of jurisprudence, and to foster and encourage cooperation and good fellowship among the members of the bar as a non-profit corporation. The Hampshire County Bar Association offers many services and programs to the local community and its members such as the Domestic Relations Program for Children, Hampshire Conciliation Program, Hampshire Elder Law Program, Lawyer Referral Service, Lawyer for the Day (Probate and Housing Court), as well as the parent education programs Parents & Children in Transition (PACT), Only One Childhood (O1C), and For The Children (FTC).
Q&A from the original program was highly interactive and has been excluded for the privacy of individual participants. If you have any questions, Massachusetts lawyers can find more on scheduling a free & confidential consultation here.
This program is presented by Laura Keeler, Mass LOMAP law practice advisor. Read more about Laura here.
We can get started. We’ll see as other people if they want to join coming in that will be great. This will also be available on demand. So today, I have the pleasure of being both the moderator and the speaker for you. This is the last in our law practice management speaker series, which we are doing for the Hampshire County Bar. Prior to this, you have sessions about best practices for Zoom, best practices for billing, integrating technology into your law practice, thinking about well being with your law practice, a number of wonderful topics, going paperless.
And so to round out this series, we’re going to be talking about the benefits of law practice management systems. And if you missed some of these series, they will be available on the website. So certainly check out all the systems. I want to acknowledge the great help in doing this. My colleague Rachel at LCL Mass LOMAP, where I am, Heidi Alexander was instrumental, and also Lisa Lipiello, and others from the Hampshire County work. So it’s pleasure to be with you here as part of this series. To give you a little bit of background.
My name is Laura. I will be your presenter today. I am a law practice advisor at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers | Mass LOMAP. And part of my experience is that I also write a lot about law practice management and technology, including I’m a co columnist for Tech from the Trenches for the ABA. I presented at a number of areas within the ABA TECHSHOW last week. I’m a certified paralegal, on the board of directors for my Paralegal Association. And I think the biggest benefit that I bring to the table is I have worked in a wide variety of legal environments. Everything from civil litigation, criminal litigation, and going to trial, leading at trial to national work, small firms, large government. So I’ve seen a large variety of legal environments and having consulted with attorneys, I know some of the pitfalls that can happen. And today, we’re going to talk about systems that can help with common pain points.
So first, I want to tell you a little bit about my organization. So Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, hopefully you will about them. If not, then this is a great time to know. It is a free, confidential service, which is done specifically for Massachusetts legal professionals. It is a wealth of resources. And here, there’s everything from stress and resilience, mental health, addiction recoveries, we have a number of support groups, career and practice management. And the idea of LCL is to really promote resilience in the legal community. So I do encourage you to reach out. To talk specifically within Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers about the side of the house that I work in is LOMAP, or the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Now you may or may not know but LOMAP provides free law practice management consultations. And just as with the LCL side of house, these are free and confidential for legal professionals in Massachusetts. This is a great service, I definitely encourage you to reach out. I also encourage you to sign up for the LOMAP emails, you’ll get an idea of services we have coming up. Just to name a few, we have a webinar for business lawyers, which goes on every month. There’s also a number of other benefits, we present at different places. And again, this is a great resource to check out for whenever you have questions. To talk a little bit about the resources that you will find on the Mass LOMAP blog, which is that masslomap.org. And the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is the LCLMA.org. There’s a range of resources, everything from subparts of law practice management, talking, for example, about marketing, business planning, starting a practice, legal tech, data, thinking about legal career development, taking care of your well being. If you want to be connected into some of the support groups, such as we have some solo stress support groups, we connect with other organizations for groups like supermom. Again, a wealth of information, definitely encourage you to go on the websites and see what resources are available that would help with your profession.
So today, we’re going to be talking about law practice management systems. And if you have questions, I definitely encourage you to to reach out now, while we go on. I’ll be taking questions at the end of this talk, I encourage you to put them in the chat. you can also feel free to reach out afterwards. I highly encourage that.
So when we speak about law practice management systems, some lawyers unfortunately are afraid of technology. They think that it’s either lawyers or technology. However, what works best in concert is when you have the technology suited to aid the lawyer’s explicit purposes. Law practice management system is a great example of this. These are systems designed specifically for lawyers to help with the overall practice of law. So as we look at that, since people in the audience may have different levels of familiarity with what we’re talking about when we need more practice management systems, it helps law firms run the business side of the law practice. So for example, with this, you can manage cases and client records more easily. You can track timekeeping and invoicing, accept online payments, schedule appointments and deadlines, manage your documents, tracking, manage potential leads, and much more. A lot of law practice management software is cloud based, which allows you to operate remotely. And again, this helps you manage the practice side of your law practice. So that way, you can spend more time on the substantive law.
If we look at a broad overview of the benefits of law practice management systems, as mentioned, this is an area which is specifically designed for attorneys so it has considerations of the industry built in. You can think of it like a Swiss Army knife, they are generally created for to work across a number of different practice areas. And it’s to help you practice better as needed. It helps you manage the information about each matter and client. It does that by having things in a matter-centric way. So that way, it becomes a complete record of every action of the case. You don’t have to try to worry here about having some things an outlook with some things in Word, and some things in some things in a paper file. You can really have all of this together electronically in the practice management system.
It also is a great benefit promoting more efficient workflows. It can do this by streamlining processes, reducing errors, increasing efficiencies, and a number of ways to become more efficient. So let’s look into what some of these are. First, if we look at the spectrum, you can have everything from highly manual intensive to highly tech enhanced processes. And I have worked with attorneys in both. I have worked with attorneys for solos, worked for small firms, worked with the US DOJ. There’s a large range of how people practice. Some people, for example, may not want a full law practice management system, but they want one that has enhanced time and billing software, for example, and that helps them decrease a lot of the clutter on their desk. The thing you want to think about is that law practice management systems, or other similar tools that have some of these capabilities we’re going to talk about can help you manage your practice in a much more efficient and less stressful environment. You don’t have to worry about the paper exploding all over your office, which I have seen with too many attorneys.
If we look at the benefit themes in law practice management systems, these are the overriding themes: You can more easily organized and find information that actually allows you to provide better client service. You can better manage your time effectively by reducing administrative tasks. And you can streamline processes and facilitate so easily document automation. So let’s look at these overall.
First, we’re going to talk about some common features in practice management systems. If you have questions about my practice management systems and looking at this what once for me, definitely encourage you to sign up for Lomax consult. We can talk about the range of systems that are out there. But as an overview, I want to talk about some features that are across a number of different practice management systems. Now, whether it be ones like Clio, or RocketMatter or Practice Panther, MyCase, Zola Suite, these names you may or may not have heard of. And let’s look at some of the features that make these so helpful to attorneys.
So first, something that has evolved to be a standard in most systems of last few years is that these use secure client portals. This is a huge advantage. This is a way, email is inherently less secure in order when you’re communicating with your client. And with this, you can have client portals where you can communicate with your clients back and forth within your practice management system. You can send them doc drafts, you can send them bills, it can have all your communications with that particular client within the same system. It uses the same level encryption that bank grade channels do so it’s highly secure and it also helps you be very organized for each matter.
With this, you also have a lot that will help you with time capture. Hopefully, none of you are doing what I’ve seen too many attorneys do, which is still manual time capture. These they have tools like automatic timers that will help you. A lot of them have built in billing. Some systems even have robust accounting, and others will integrate with other accounting programs like QuickBooks.
It helps you manage your contacts. And with that you can do better conflict management. You can see appointments and events at a glance. And with that you can see tasks and ticklers which give you reminders of important due dates coming up. You can both manage your documents in a centralized area.
And with document assembly, if you create templates, it will also help you pre populate what is in your contacts to go into your templates, which saves you a lifetime of creating documents. You can track calls, emails, case communications together, some practice management systems even let you send texts from their systems. And it’s also space where you can have research notes. Again, this is a great way to help keep your case matter information together. And these are some features that you’ll want to look for. Now, as we delve into more about benefits, again, what you want to think about is how these tools serve you when you’re practicing. We know that law is a very stressful area of practice. There’s a lot of time and devotion that you put into your cases. The more that you can do to help run the practice of your law office, the better off you’ll be, and you won’t feel like these people are juggling a million papers all at once.
The main top benefit theme of law practice management systems is that you have ease of information sharing. This is great whether you are solo who wants to communicate more easily with your clients, whether you have a small team that you want to be able to all be on the same page. It ensures that the information of everyone who’s working on the case is up to date so you can know the exact status. It is much easier than trying to synthesize from many different sources. For example, if you had some paper files, some in this person’s Outlook, some in this person’s desktop folder, that is not a good way to have your information together. This really helps you synthesize it. And it also allows secure sharing, particularly with clients through the client portal, but also internally from our employees and others. So if we look at how this is supported, information sharing has a lot of different features that can go into it.
So again, information is stored in a matter centric manner. So if you search for a matter, you will have all of the threads connected to it. You will be able to see your appointments at a glance. You can see tasks and ticklers for reminders. You have your contacts all together makes it far easier to do conflict checking. You can track your calls and emails within the system. You don’t have to use external systems, you can use the client portal to centralize how you communicate with your clients, which also has great benefit of you will have clients calling in less to your practice because they will be able to see what the status of the cases through the documents you share with them in the portal. (Related: Setting Boundaries: Teach Your Clients How YOU Want to Communicate [Webinar].) And a lot of these are Software as a Service or cloud based systems, so you can work anywhere, whether that’s at your home, at your physical office. So it’s very easy to move around.
If we look to see what an example of a law practice management system looks like, and what it means when I say that this is matter centric is how they are set up. So as you can see here, this is Clio. This is an example system. On the matter tab, this can list all of your different matters that you have going on. From there, you can split them out and filter by the clients that are on them, who the responsible attorney is, what the practice area is. This has a number of benefits. For example, if one attorney has to go on vacation, and then or become sick, and you need another attorney to pick up their cases, you can very easily say, “Okay, here at a glance, is all the ones that this attorney is working on their case. If you’re trying to think about should I focus in certain practice areas more than others what has been most profitable for me for the last year? Well, you can filter down by the practice areas, you can set permissions in case, you have some people on your firm that are conflicted out, for example, when I worked at DOJ, we had one person on my team whose wife worked for a competitor in the industry on the other side. And so that person was conflicted out with ethical walls. This makes it easy to do to have who should have permissions to these documents. And again, if you have a lot of clients that say, the corporate clients, and it’s hard to always remember the name of the client with the matter, this is very easy for at a glance, to give you some good information on that.
If we look at another example of a law practice management system that is the standard bearer in the industry., this is MyCase. And this helps, you know, for example of what sort of technology is available on these websites. A lot of these websites actually have great help articles, they can help you as you can see everything from how to do text messaging, integrating calendars, how to set up an automation, they often have a lot of videos. With this, a lot of newer features that have come out over the past year include things like e-signature, which allows ease of getting digital signature for your documents rather than having to wait for wet signature. It also will help with the internal billing and invoicing that is set up to connect with the time tracking within the system. This is another great practice system. If we look back to the broad benefits of our practice management system, we’ve talked about ease of information sharing.
Now we want to talk about client engagement. This actually helps you better engage with your clients and empower your clients, which is you know, is so important for having client buy in and for not having clients call you all the time, being very insecure about their case status. So again, the client portals are highly secure. This allows you to very easily send bills to clients to share documents to send them documents that may need their digital signature. As we’ve seen from a lot of studies, particularly for the pandemic, clients are increasingly expecting more technology, ease document sharing and signing with their practices. It also allows you to keep in better contact. So whether that is working on the case now, whether you’re looking to follow up with leads, maybe you have past clients that you want to check in with. For example, I know a family law attorney who about a year after a case is closed for child custody, she’ll send a follow up email and say, just checking in, didn’t know if you need anything with your parenting plan amended, if so please reach out to our office. Again, with all of this information in one place, it is so much easier to keep in contact with your clients, both current past and future. It also is wonderful because if you have clients that call in and everyone has had this, they want to know what the status of their matter is, well, within a couple minutes or less within usually 30 seconds, you can pull up, see right at a glance what the current status is. Or if this is a past client that you did a lot of work on, you can’t recognize names, as they call you up on the phone, you can go search the name in the management system, remember their key case details. By having all of that together, the client will feel that they are your number one client, which so many clients want to feel and then you’ll have much stronger engagement.
As we look at this and we’re thinking about what are some tips overall, to best manage your practices? We know from number of research studies that despite what many think, multitasking, actually doesn’t work that well. You want to be able to track your tasks, to have checklists and to work on things one at a time so you can really focus. Let’s see how our practice management systems can help with this. These have a great benefit in that they can help with managing tasks, assigning tasks if you work with others in your office, or streamlining processes. A common pain point for many attorneys is that they are either missing deadlines or they’re running right up to the edge of the deadline. This puts enormous stress on you. This does not have to be this way, it actually can be easier, not easy, but easier to stay on top of all your tasks that you have going on for every particular case, what is coming up one, if you have task management built into your law practice management system. Also, if you work with others in your firm, and someone has done one part, say they’ve drafted some documents, another person, then it’s up to them to review. It’s easy with these checklists to pass it off, and assign the tasks as to who needs to review who needs to do this to keep those assignments moving. And also, it’s very contemporaneous. It’s great for updates. I’ve worked with attorneys before they would try to have legal sheets on the top of paper files, and think that that would be the way to do but the problem is those files can often be buried under other files. This is a much easier way to stay on top of your tasks, so you’re not pushing at the deadlines. If you look at some features that aid in this quest for streamlining your task assignments, all you can filter searches by certain events or by tasks. With the client portal, it will significantly decrease how often the client calls for a check-in call because you were able to push the documents out to them electronically, saving you time from them calling in and saving you time from emailing them paper documents. You can have streamlined calendaring, especially with rules-based calendaring is something some systems offer which is excellent, for example, about if you have you know that a court case is coming up, and then say you get an extension on the court case, if you would use rule-based calendaring, rather than having to manually reset all of those clocks and deadlines which are coming up, these systems can help automate it with you. Also, this can help assemble your documents. Because what data you have pre populated in your contracts can fill into your template. So it’s a lot easier than having to re type things over and over.
If we look at another main benefit of our practice management system, this is about reducing administrative tasks and managing time more effectively. As you may know, if you can decrease the number of times that you touch a file, you will save a number of time in doing it. The more that you can automate for administrative, the more you will have efficiency, and you’ll have less error reduction. So again, this is helpful if rather than for example, you typing in the clients information over and over and trying to do data duplication or do data entry. If you can have it connect in with say forms where the client puts in their own contact information, you’re going to have reduced errors, the client already knows how to spell their own name. It’s going to be to be simplified the whole point all around. It also can reduce calendar errors. As we talked with the rules-based calendaring, you don’t have to go to the court rules and figure out how does it work with this holiday. This helps whether you have support staff or not. A number of studies such as from the Legal Trends Report have found that if you don’t have support staff, attorneys can actually gain a number of hours in your week by spending less time on administrative work or using law office management systems. And if you do have colleagues or support staff, they can be far more effective for some of the reasons we talked about like everyone being on the same page. If we look at how this is supported, there are a number of features within practice management systems that allow you should use and manage your time more effectively. Some of them include document assembly, task management workflows, having your contact management all in one place. You’re not split across different databases, email management, rather than trying to save everything over from your Outlook, if you haven’t in the client portal it’s already in with a matter. You can track dockets and calendars easier. You can have conflict checks that you are able to run with quick search rather than, I actually knew an attorney who had library cards similar to the old card catalogs and that was how he tried to do his conflict check. Needless to say that was not an efficient way when you have a new client and trying to go back and see if this is someone who you can take on. Client portals a big time savings.
And also for time tracking and billing, this is a huge, huge way they can manage your time more effectively. We know that attorneys, if you do not track your time contemporaneously, you often can lose track of time that you forget to bill it to the client. Or on the other hand, you may fear that you are overbilling. With these they have automatic trackers built in. For example, you get a phone call, you can press a button have it start the automatic timer. At the end of the phone call, you can press stop, it will capture in the length of your phone call. You can write notes right in that app, it will save it to the matter with the notes. Same thing if you are sending emails, a lot of these have Outlook plugins where you can put in a note after you send an email, you know, charge point two hours to this case for this. So it really helps you integrate and have all of this just tracked more effectively in one system.
Speaking of this, there are a number of different ways that you can bill as you work with law practice management systems. You’re not trying to create things at the end of the day, or the end of the week, or at the end of the month, which is so much harder. So let’s look at a few different ways. And this is RocketMatter, which is another example of a law practice management system. So as you see when you’re setting up calendar events, you can bill for those. For example for people that bill for initial consultations, this is something you can do easily. You again, this is an example of what it may look like. You put the time and date sheet, you enter the client or matter, you click bill. You can also even have it is a ‘No bill’ but still have it come out on the invoice so the client will see for non billable work, still the amount of time that you put into their case. As you’re doing new tasks, you can bill right for that all in one. As you’re adding on expenses for the file or particular time, this again, you can bill for it all in one go. As we talked some with the automatic timer, this is a great way to be able to track your time. You can apply it and that helps you with your billing. You can bill for documents. This may help for example, if you have flat fees. You can bill for if you’re doing certain, well doing notes, and then to remind you over later. You can bill when you’re doing emails, phone messages, even documents created from a template, which more and more people are finding that with the time savings they use from document templates, they can take what used to would have taken say hours to create into a number of minutes with that you can do flat fees for document templates. And it’s a great way to be able to track the value of your time as you’re doing all this great work for the clients.
So as we go back to our benefits of law practice management systems, another main benefit is that you can manage money more effectively. So this is very important. And unfortunately, a number of attorneys seem to get a bit hesitant when it comes to tracking money, talking with clients about money, but really, this is an important part of practicing law. With law practice management systems, it can both help you manage money because it has the internal billed time. You can do the expenses. A lot of them will integrate or have internally connections to your client trust accounts for your IOLTA to be able to track what is going into your operating account, what’s going into your IOLTA. You can simplify invoices. You can look to see what is profitability of different practice areas, what you would like to spend more of your time in. Electronic payment processing is something that clients are really demanding. Rather than dealing for example with paper checks, you can have the electronic payment processing whether that’s a debit card, credit card, money order electronically, ACH and all connected to your system. It will make following up with your clients easier. You don’t have send out paper bills. You can also with your invoices, split for division of labor, which is great if you’re working say with an accountant or with an assistant that helps you in oversight. As a side note to this too, I mentioned before but to follow up a little bit more in depth, for time, billing, and accounting, depending on what you use, and what your accountant or bookkeeper prefers using, there are a number of different systems that will help you track this electronically and with more ease. There are some standalone products for time and billing, for example, TimeSolv, Time59, Bill4Time. There are some law practice management systems which have built in extensive accounting, such as Cosmolex, Zola Suite. There are some that integrate out with other accounting products like like Xero or QuickBooks. Since this is an area that many attorneys find very troubling to do manually, I would definitely encourage you to use technology to help you stay on top of this whether you have a stand alone time, billing and accounting system, whether you have one that is a robust part of your law practice management system.
If we also look at some other features law practice management systems have, it helps report time, billing and accounting. So if we look at the front end and the back end, for the front end, we talked some with how you can track your time, we looked at the nine different examples on the RocketMatter website of how you can bill in a law practice management system. There’s also some that have more back office functionality and this is where it involves your bookkeeper or accountant because there are some that have reports that will help you with your trust accounting, with your general ledger, be able to separate out doing your monthly three way reconciliation. Some will integrate with different electronic payment processing systems. So these are features that you really want to think about what is best for your firm and what also would help you as you’re looking to streamline communications with your bookkeeper or accountant so you can stay on top of your trust accounting and your money.
If we look now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, how do I choose a law practice management system? What is the best one out there?” First of all, there is no best one. There are some that will be better suited for attorneys in different situations. There are a number of different considerations. Again, if you want to talk specifics for your situation, I encourage you to do a LOMAP consultation. (Related: Massachusetts lawyers can schedule a Free & Confidential consultation with a Mass LOMAP advisor — find more here.) But let’s look at some key considerations if you’re choosing a law practice management system. First, you want to prioritize what are the most important things to you. The more robust features it has, often the more expensive it will be. You want to say okay, for example, in my practice, I want something that that helps more or less with document assembly, or something that helps more with document management, or you know, my current systems are okay for that it’s really important to me is, say the time tracking and billing. Whatever it is, think about what would be most helpful to solve the pain points of your current practice, prioritize those, and then look for systems with features that support those areas to eliminate some of those pain points.
If we look at the general types of law practice management systems, there are broadly two main categories. There are cloud based systems, which are accessible by the web. These are the vast majority. There are also some on premises software, which is installed on desktops. So these are often for people that like using legacy software. Some examples of that are Tab3, PC Law. Some examples of cloud based systems are Zola Suite, MyCase, RocketMatter, Practice Panther, Cosmolex. Most people, I would say, we’ll find the cloud based is easier. If you find though, that you already had say an Amicus or an Abacus and you want to switch over to something else. What you switch from and to will have differing degrees of compatibility. And so again, this is another consideration for what works best for your firm. Do you want something in the cloud that allows you to work remotely? Are you more comfortable with on premise? What would best serve your needs?
Some other main considerations for law practice management systems. Most of them work for a broad range of practice areas. Some are geared for certain practice areas, for example, personal injury, workers comp bankruptcy, they have some that are more geared for those. Most are geared for small firms. There are some they’re more enterprise level and geared for larger. Some function about having most of the functionality built into the product. This for example is one like MyCase. Others are known for integrating with almost any other application you can want. An example of that is Clio, which I think has 200 integrations with different other products at last note.
So as we think more about choosing a law practice system, first we really want to think about what features will serve you best. We talked about a number of common features across systems. See what your firm needs the most, what your pain points are, what areas would help you in eliminating those pain points. Then before you choose one, you want to turn to resources because you can better bet systems when you’re informed. There are a number of great places where the resources on this. Again, call LOMAP, do a consultation with us. There are also some online places like Capterra, Lawyerist, Uptime, that if you’re looking for certain features, you can filter by this and it will help you narrow down to some filter products.
Once you decide on what you’re looking for some features, you have an idea of some vetted products that are standard bearers in the industry to look at, you want to demo a couple. Really try out that trial period because what is intuitive for one person may not be intuitive for the next firm. You want to evaluate, see if it makes meet your needs for the most part, and there’s not going to be a system out there that will meet 100% of your needs. This is back to when we talk about the priorities. But if you find a system that same meets 80% of your needs, you may find that it has enough efficiencies and time savings, that it will still be helpful to bring on board. Then once you choose a system, you definitely want to train, train, train, both yourself and everyone else in the firm will be using it for they are using the law practice management system to its greatest capabilities.
You also want to think about your budget. There are some that have member benefit deals with different bar associations. For example, Social Law Library, you can actually have a free account with Zola Suite, which is a great one. And just as a note, if you are also thinking about the budget for legal research or other legal tasks, there are also some member benefit deals, which have committed with different associations so that way, say you’re not as unnecessarily spending several hundred dollars a month on a Westlaw or Lexis subscription if you could get by fine with FastCase which is a free member legal research benefit. So definitely consider your budget and your needs before you commit or sign the contract.
If we return to the overview of law practice management benefits, this helps to manage and run the business side of your practice. This will help you eliminate a lot of administrative work and headaches. It will help you manage case and client records; tracking timekeeping; improve your invoicing; accept online payments and payment processing; more easily schedule appointments and deadlines; manage your documents and the status of your case, track and manage potential leads so that way you’re not having contacts across a number of different databases, and a lot more. And also, these systems allow firms to operate remotely, which means times with a pandemic is very important for a lot of firms. So at this point, I would remind you to please ask questions. Do not be the ostrich that sticks your head in the sand and thinks, “My challenges are just like going to get better overnight.” If you want a consultation with LOMAP I put the link in, I’ve also put the link in for my email. And again, I also encourage you to sign up for the Mass LOMAP newsletter so that you are aware of these resources when you need them. So at this point, I will stop my screen sharing and see what questions people have.
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