In my first post under this topic, I discussed free and low-cost word processing software options. This post will look into ways to manage your high volume of legal matters so you do not end up managed BY them.
Legal matter management software (a/k/a case management software and practice management software) is available at price points from little or nothing to amazingly expensive. It depends on what you need as to whether any of the many available options is suitable for your present and future needs. Your level of technology skills will also affect the product you select.
In my companion blawg, “Practical Compliance,” I posted a 4-part series on making the best software choice for a small firm, legal department or organization. Rather than repeat that content here, you can use these links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. In those posts, I described a strategy as follows:
1. Decide what you need and want, THEN shop.
2. Stay open to changing your requirements after you shop.
3. Let the actual users have a voice.
4. Keep the future open-ended.
5. Make a long-term decision.
Instead, this post will point out a few feature considerations you should review before you make an investment of time and or money on any choice. (Full disclosure: I have a consulting relationship with one vendor mentioned below, LucidIQ.)
The LSR practice needs a few features in case management software that are common to other types of law practice, but not usually at the same time:
- Ability to assemble batches of similar documents for multiple clients using information specific to each client with minimal data entry
- Ability to link tasks in sequence to help each client’s matter “self-manage” to a limited extent
- Ability to present key details about each client matter in easy-to-find format
- Accessible outside the office
- Able to give restricted access to clients to update their own matters with documents, data, notes, etc.
- Affordable monthly subscription options
Here are the reasons for each of those features:
1. Batch Document Assembly. The more clients you serve with each single effort, the more effectively you are using your limited resources (staff time, e.g., or your own). When you can click a button and generate the standard form of a document for multiple clients, customized with their particular data, you are much more effective than when you have to open each client’s matter and create their documents separately. Ideally, you will assemble the same basic document for a dozen or more clients at a time with similar legal matters this way.
2. Linked-Action Workflow. You can have “two dimensional,” passive tasks on a list or you can have tasks that are 3D and actually play an active role in keeping the matter moving along. The first type requires more effort each time you use it; the second, after you configure the task, actually shaves time off your file maintenance work each time you use it, resulting in a return on your initial investment. When you mark Task A “completed” in a routine matter, your CMS should know what comes next and move to that next step in the flow of work. Even better, the CMS should be able to send an email to your clients when their matter gets to pre-determined stages to either alert them that they need to take a certain action or that you have completed that task or stage. This helps you satisfy your ethical obligation to keep clients reasonably informed while increasing client satisfaction.
3. Pragmatic UI. If you have to dig in your matters to find the key details you look for frequently, you lose time. Make sure you can configure the matter summary screen to at least present the most important details about the file on the top level to save you from searching, browsing, clicking…..
4. Accessibility. I cannot think of a good reason to buy a CMS (or rent one) that does not offer easy access from any Internet connection. As you know from some ideas presented in the book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, there are a number of service delivery models that involve getting out of the office. If the product does not at least have a web client that works as well for your needs as the local version, move on to another option. You want to be untethered so you can work anywhere there is a connection.
5. Client DIY Input. The fundamental concept beneath “unbundled” and “limited scope” legal services is that the client is doing more of the work than in traditional, full-scope representation. Your CMS needs to accommodate that in a way that helps you be more efficient while preserving confidentiality and security. Most CMS products allow configurable “roles” for users, but many still do not embrace or support the idea of direct client access to limited portions of the electronic matter file. Bankruptcy software is a notable exception here; take a cue from their strategy to help high-volume, low-margin consumer bankruptcy attorneys succeed. It is less work on you and your staff for a client to be able to upload a PDF of their document, for example, than even to email it to you. Same for keying in personal data such as SSNs, dates, etc.
6. Affordable, monthly payments. Get going without a major, up-front investment in a product that may not work for or grow with you. Make sure you spend your limited technology budget wisely. While you may opt for an annual subscription that saves a little off the monthly fee, avoid multi-year subscriptions until you are sure this is the product you want to work with for a long time. The key, as emphasized in the book, is to keep your on-going costs low, paying only for what you need when you need it, not for expensive tools with features that you may never grow into.
There may be other legal case management software vendors who offer all of these, but I know for certain that you can find them all in Case Manager Pro by LucidIQ. Though CMP was designed for mass tort case complexity, it has a great screen design that I personally would prefer to use for a limited scope practice over any others I have seen. Shop around, compare features, do the demos and ask for a trial login for each of your top 3-4 CMS vendors.
You should be able to quickly see how the software helps you cut or keep costs low when you set it up correctly.