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Seven Key Points to Your Practice Management Program

I’ve been advising firms on legal practice management programs for several years. In the years I’ve been doing this, the following key points to setting up and using practice management programs have always proven worth the effort to evaluate– regardless of the software being selected/used:

1.Learn the features of the program you are going to buy or have already bought – I’ve been amazed by clients who purchase a practice management program and then want it to do something it cannot do! Listen folks, with some companies, getting a desired feature added to the program will take years – if at all. With others, it sometimes takes only a suggestion to their website and ‘Voila!” there it is.
If you know you need to be able to create custom reports, either learn how well the program does it, or ask for a demonstration. If you have complicated data intake needs, make sure the program can take in the data in the manner in which you want. Don’t assume!

2.Explain how your firm works – some consultants (usually those more experienced) will have seen similar workflows (the processes you use) and will be able to tell you which programs will offer the mix of features you will need to accomplish those processes. If you are going to do this yourself – expect to spend a lot of time learning the programs (just like attorneys have to learn the law!) If you have a complicated workflow (that perhaps needs to be improved) – be sure you can explain it in detail so that you (or your consultant) can identify which features will be used to accomplish it.

3.Identify the data you need to store – If you are using a practice management program that doesn’t offer custom data fields, at a minimum, you are working too *#!@ hard! If you are not sure – hire a consultant (this is just like your clients, who realize that they don’t know the law well enough to go to court without one) And if you hire a practice management consultant that has worked with other firms that work in the same areas of practice, while that consultant may be capable of suggesting the data you may want to keep – he/she doesn’t really know! You will need to spend the time teaching your consultant how yourprocesses work, and consequently exactly what data you need. With the more experienced consultants you will need to spend less time, but there will still be the need to identify exactly how your process works.

a.Identify what data you need to see every day, or every time the phone rings, or every time you or your partners need to have a partner meeting. If you don’t identify what you need to be able to see, and when it will need to be seen, and by whom, then you really haven’t done your job.

b.Identify what data will need to be pulled out of the forms you see on yourcomputer screens and merged into your standard documents (welcome letter, retainer letter, documents for courts and letters to opposing counsel, etc…) These fields will include the basic client data and also some area of practice-specific data fields such as date of accident (Personal Injury) or discharge type (Military Records) or Bankruptcy type (Bankruptcy).

A Beginning


Yes, it's hard to tell if there is a difference - what do people really mean when they say they want their Practice Management software in the cloud? For some, being "in the cloud" simply means that, through whatever means, if they access their data (wherever it may be stored) through the Internet, then they are "in the cloud." For others, being "in the cloud" means that their programs and data reside on a server somewhere outside their offices, and they access them through the Internet--by using a browser - not some program (Logmein (to a desktop in their office), iTap (from an iPad), or just Remote Desktop to a Terminal Server.)

Finally, there are those who think that "in the cloud" means that your practice management software runs in a browser, not by getting to it through the Internet.

When evaluating whether or not your firm should be in the cloud, first think through all of the reasons you think you need to be "in the cloud"

For example, do you:

  • Need to access your programs/data from anywhere (using a browser-based approach)?
  • Want to avoid the responsibility of maintaining/upgrading servers within your office? (Remember that you will still have to have a server for your LAN, but not one that requires as much power and sophistication.)
  • Want to take advantage of some of the newer features (i.e., remote client access, sophisticated workflows, etc...) that newer, cloud-based programs offer?
These are just some of the reasons some firms think they need to be "in the cloud." Realize that if you get more (Practice Management through a browser, new features that older, more established practice management programs do not offer, etc...), you will probably pay more. If your goal to be "in the cloud" means that you don't have to maintain (as much) or purchase a new server (as often), or worry about backups (as frequently), then there should be a cost for that. If you get more, you probably will end up paying more - isn't that what our life experiences have taught us?