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Seven Key Points In Evaluating Your Practice Management Program

4.Understand where you are coming from and what you are going to – Do you currently have a practice management program? If you do and you are converting to a new program, will the expectation be that the new program (when the old one is switched off) will do everything the old did – and then some? Or will it be a work in progress, with users unable to do the same functions that the old one provided –until the new program is set up completely?
Remember that if you have a program, you have probably spent a lot of time (over time – probably months, at least, if not years (probably several)) getting it set up the way you want – converting to a new program will require that same amount of effort (minus the effort to discover just what the firm needs/wants) in a much shorter time frame.
If you are coming from anything but a practice management program: typewriters and notepads, Outlook and Word, etc…, then remember that the features available in a current legal practice management program will be overwhelming to a new user. Focus on the key features that you need your staff to learn and use. Then, gradually introduce the more advanced or sophisticated features. Always find an example of fixing an issue or making a process easier before asking users to utilize a program feature.

5.When you want to ask a consultant that wonderful question (“How Much?”) then you need to be prepared to explain exactly what you need the program and the consultant to do.

While there is no perfect analogy, many years ago, I learned this is one that most attorneys can at least identify with: selecting, customizing and implementing a practice management program should be treated just like identifying, designing and building a home. In order to be successful at both, all involved must understand that each take a lot of time, attention to detail and a defined process tied to constant and precise communications.
Asking a practice management consultant “How Much?” without providing the details is like asking a custom home builder “How Much?” to build a house on this lot? While the builder may have some basic information (the lot, whether or not it has city water, etc…, and the actual size of the house that could be built) that’s not enough – and no one would expect a reasonable answer – one that could be expected to be correct,, without at least providing overall size, number and size of bedrooms, baths, size of kitchen, how many cars in the garage; in addition to what materials it would be built from, etc…
And just like the concept of “sweat equity” that some builders provide – if you plan on doing some of the work, let the consultant know that before spending lots of time on a proposal. What you think you want to be able to do to save money may require hours of training to get your staff up to speed on the necessary concepts and skills – effectively negating any of the potential savings.

6.If you have an existing practice management program, converting the data from the existing program to the new one is perhaps the hardest task to perform. Going back to the analogy above, moving from an existing home to another can cause a lot of extra expenses if the necessary planning is not done in advance. Can the existing furniture (data) be moved into the new home? If attention to size, style and a corresponding number of rooms has not been given, then there will be issues. When it comes to data, the manner in which the databases link the data will not be exactly the same from one program to another, so if your expectation is that the data linked (contacts and matters, related parties and cases) will be linked in the new program, expect that it will take some time and money for that to happen, if at all.

7.If it’s mission critical, then it will cost money to maintain (the software, that is), and it will require time and attention (by someone) to keep the program relevant and efficient. Mission critical software, by definition, is of great importance to the firm’s success. This means that you must pay whatever costs are necessary to maintain the functionality necessary to be successful. In the case of most legal practice management programs, there is some form of annual fee, whether it is a maintenance program (the annual maintenance program for LexisNexis’ Time Matters and STI’s Practice Master comes to mind) or the annual subscription fee you would pay for using a cloud-based program such as Centerbase, Advologix, Clio or RocketMatter.
The second requirement of a fully-utilized legal practice management program is that there will be daily needs: for some programs this will be troubleshooting consistent issues; for other program the time will be spent identifying new methods to utilize the program’s features. Regardless of the why, it is always safe to assume (and I hate to do that) that there will be some time spent on maintaining/tweaking/supporting the software that runs your business!
So decide who will be providing that maintenance/consultation/support and understand the cost – whether it be paying a consultant or training an in-house support person to provide what is necessary. Remember to account for the time this person will have to dedicate to the program: an over-worked, highly-skilled paralegal/staff will have many more opportunities to move to a new situation.
The firm should have a good idea of what the above costs will be (through product research and the standard due diligence of referrals and experience with other, similar types of software) and be able to understand the ROI on such a commitment. Don’t underestimate the personnel side of this component to legal practice management software!