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Thoughts on Practice Management

Various thoughts on the selection and implementation of legal practice management software.


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Written by Jeff Stouse on Monday, 18 March 2013 13:15.

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More often than some cloud-based practice management vendors would like to admit, the choice of a cloud-based practice management system by a firm doing more than "simple" billing is often "steered" to one that offers both a full-featured PM system and a full-featured billing/accounting system. This comes from two simple reasons: 1) firms don't want to have to talk to two vendors to get any PM-Billing/Accounting issues resolved, and 2) cloud-based PM systems are often simpler and easier to use - hence any billing/accounting offerings are perceived to be the same, and something that most firms would want to have.

Does this make it more difficult for a cloud-based Practice Management vendor to deliver a product offering that meets this standard? Absolutely, but look at the players in the current lan-based Practice Management offerings: Amicus Attorney offers its own accounting module; Lexis Nexis Time Matters pairs with either Billing Matters or PC Law; STI offers Practice Master paired with Tabs. The fact that these pairings are some of the most popular choices by firms is no coincidence. If a firm trusts the software vendor for their billing/accounting needs, then it follows that they would (at the very least) review any practice management software offered by the same vendor.

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Written by Jeff Stouse on Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:59.

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Every firm I talk to that wants to use a practice management program wants to do so to be better organized. As with every attorney who practices law, the degree to which he/she wants to be organized varies. That is one of the many reasons why there are so many practice management programs. For some law firms, who don't take full advantage of their practice management programs, and by definition are not as organized, that extra level of added work and continued inefficiency is just a price the firm has decided to (unfortunately and unnecessarily) bear.

Any firm that doesn't select a practice management program with a robust implementation of customizable fields is choosing to be less organized, more inefficient and fall behind in the competition with other firms who do!
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Written by Jeff Stouse on Saturday, 14 July 2012 15:16.

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email icon

Email has become a critical part of any practice management system. However many junk/useless emails you receive every day; you still have to wade through each email in order to not miss those "too-important" emails. And those too-important emails should be stored (shared) in your practice management program. This means that it is critical that you can store your emails (immediately after you review/create them) into your practice management program, wherever you happen to be when you review/create the email. Finally, having this integration also helps when it comes to billing for the time spent creating/reviewing the countless emails dealt with on a daily basis.

If you are considering an update to your (new) practice management program or your (first) practice management program, you shouldn't consider one that does not provide a means to save emails, as well as the attachments that often come with them, directly into your practice management program. Email has become, unfortunately, an essential part of the modern work day. Most firms receive the bulk of their client/matter information through the emails and/or documents attached to them.
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Written by Jeff Stouse on Friday, 29 June 2012 15:38.

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Network-Remote-Desktop-icon
Remote Client Access (RCA) has been a concept that many law firms have wanted to provide (given that the access is both controlled and secure) for a long time. How many times has an attorney wanted to say to a persistently “needy” client: “As soon as we hear something, we update your file in our system. That update is available to you via the Internet. Simply login to our site and view the update. There’s no need to call, as the information you would receive from us over the phone will also be available online.”

In other words, don’t call us – look it up on the Internet. While this scenario may not work in all situations, there are many times when the client can be assured that progress/effort is being made by simply looking at the data in the legal practice management system. This approach can also be improved by creating client progress data that is specifically designed to show that progress. For example, short documents/notes can be created with a specific category/code so that when clients access their matter data, they need to see only the one source of data to know what is going on.

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Written by Jeff Stouse on Saturday, 30 June 2012 15:32.

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doc with pen
Law firms require documents. If your firm cannot generate the most basic of documents without having to open an existing document, re-save it as a new document and then manually enter basic contact or matter information—you’re wasting precious time!

Everything needs to be documented: the written record is all. If there isn't a contract; then the situation at hand is sure to be contested. If there wasn’t a letter or email sent to the party needing the information, then someone failed to do their job. If that is true, then why do some many firms fail to spend the necessary time and money to ensure that creating those standard documents are easily, quickly and correctly documented?

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Written by Jeff Stouse on Thursday, 10 May 2012 15:44.

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Document-icon
Many attorneys will agree: Law firms run on documents. Given that, why do many firms fail to realize that if your firm cannot generate the most basic of documents without having to open an existing document, re-save it as a new document and then manually enter basic contact or matter information --they're wasting their time—repeatedly? With the many different programs and approaches to document generation, any firm that cannot consistently generate a “standard” document containing current client/matter information in less than a minute is simply not paying the necessary attention to this important part of a law firm’s daily needs.

Everything needs to be documented: the written record is all. If there isn't a document; then it didn't happen. If that is true, then why do so many firms fail to spend the necessary time and money to ensure that the process of creating those standard documents is easy, quick and consistent? Why do so many firms consistently argue that each document is a “one-of” – and that it would take too much effort to create the document through standard document generation techniques?

Written by Jeff Stouse on Thursday, 10 May 2012 15:42.

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ESQ Intake form
Collecting the important information on a new matter, with a new client is often more time-consuming than it should be. There are, depending on the type of matter, different fields of information (beyond the basic client information) that need to be collected immediately. These fields of information help the firm determine what records requests may need to be sent out (in the case of an auto accident, for example), or they may determine what type of bankruptcy the client needs/wants to file. For lots of reasons, it is critical to collect the important information as soon into the matter’s progress as possible.

When using most practice management programs the common approach is to open a new contact and/or matter form and fill in what fields the person performing the intake knows need to be collected. With most practice management programs this means that the entire form is displayed, with all the possible fields (that may/may not be collected during the life of the matter) filling the screen. This approach forces the staff person doing the intake to know exactly which fields are important (but not required – more on that later) and should be gathered immediately, and which fields should be collected (if/when necessary) at a later point in the process.

Written by Jeff Stouse on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 16:01.

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Sjodberg workbench 1450We all acknowledge the need and appreciation for fine craftsmanship.  Why? The need for finely crafted products that continue to provide the result for which they were built will never cease. In the world of managing matters in a legal office, the desire for craftsmanship is often affected by the burning need to "Get Things Done!"  While this requirement for speed and efficiency is ever present, the savvy law firm finds the carefully crafted tool (Practice Management program) that delivers the functionality that the always-in-a-hurry attorney needs. Craftsmanship is often associated with a requirement of too much time; but the well-crafted practice management program delivers essential functionality and sometimes complex results with little effort.

When most firms search for a practice management tool, the goal is to select a program that will accomplish the everyday tasks in an efficient and easy-to-understand manner. While this goal may seem obvious, it is often not accurate. What most firms really want is a program, when customized to the method in which that law firm practices, does the work required, and often most of that work is done behind the scenes. Preventing a firm from missing court dates or Statues of Limitations, or ensuring that regular contact is maintained with clients whose matters are commonly years in the completion are often tasks that a firm expects, but doesn’t want to think about. What firms want is a program that has thought for them.

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Written by Jeff Stouse on Tuesday, 17 April 2012 16:06.

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Logic At work - Image 1 - Matter workflow
Practice management programs are framed in one of two approaches: generic, with the ability to be customized to a variety of areas of practice, or specialized, with the narrow focus of a specific area of practice. All firms in any area of practice have a list of custom data fields that they need to track, such as the Date of Accident for a Personal Injury practice. These custom fields (as opposed to standard data fields the program offers when it is launched) can always be added as the firm sees the need. Remember that the standard, or pre-defined, list of data fields is set; a practice management program needs the feature of custom data fields to allow the firm to capture any data not capable of being stored in the standard fields. ...

Written by Jeff Stouse on Sunday, 15 April 2012 16:09.

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A Beginning

Web?/Cloud?

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.)

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