If you are starting up a new office and purchasing a law practice management suite, or if you are considering an upgrade, or switching vendors, choosing a package that is right for you is important. Unfortunately, most of the information available in a web search is not great, so we’ve put together a checklist to help you make a smart choice that will prove itself in functionality and ROI.
1. Define your goals first.
Law firms often look at the available feature sets without having a clear understanding of what their firm really needs. Basic needs, of course, are calendar, task managers and documents, but don’t stop there: go deeper into your future plans and goals before moving forward. For instance, are you a solo firm, and do you intend to remain that way? How many staff will you need to support? Are you planning on adding remote staff? Additional attorneys? Firms that plan on hiring remote staff will have vastly different requirements than firms that share office space. Look at your fee arrangements, and document automation needs, and try to shape a vision of where your firm is going in the future. This will help you find some clarity around the features that are or will be important to you, now or in the future. Ultimately, you don’t want to have to go through this process again, so find a solution that will grow with you.
2. Find a solution that will grow with you.
Your law practice management suite should do you well for a minimum of 10 years, so spend some time thinking about where your practice is headed. In this sense, it is good to have a sense of what the future holds for technology and how this relates to your own long-term strategy. Look at current trends, how they impact your current workflow, and try to determine where it’s all headed. Nobody can predict exactly how it’s all going to work out, but it’s always good to have an idea of what you think might happen, and determine whether you’re on the same trajectory.
You might also think about creating a threat scenario using your current data and security risks. Depending on what type of law you practice, you may have an increased need for communications security and encryption; or if you are a firm that still maintains paper files, you might want to assess your fire or flood risks. It’s important to conceive a threat analysis protocol that is specific to your unique needs in order to get an idea of how each vendor can help you address certain scenarios.
3. Find out how your Advisor benefits from your business.
Having a consultant can be a huge advantage in choosing the right law practice software. A good consultant will have you thinking about the right things, and will help you determine your needs based on your business model, talking you through each scenario to ensure that you end up with the result you’re after, right down to the price you want to pay. Even if you have great confidence in your consultant, it’s always good to know how they make their money. It could be in one of the following ways: a. you pay a fee to them for their advice, b. from reseller commissions, or c. from ongoing support, training, hosting, and customization packages or contracts. While there is nothing wrong with either of these scenarios, you want to make sure that the consultant is going to bring you the best possible solution for your needs. They should be open and transparent, and be able to address any questions or concerns you might have about their recommendations. Watch for consultants who lean strongly towards or away from a particular solution (such as cloud-based software), since this may indicate that they are biased to their own preferences, and not yours.
4. Narrow the Field.
You should now have a better idea of what you are going to need, as well as your future goals, so at this point, it’s time to narrow your options.
While every firm is different, here are some of the high points you might want to think about:
- Security – audits, standards, encryption
- Mobile accessibility – smartphones, tablets, browser interface
- User interface – should be easy to use and adopt
- Vendor reputation – continued support is important, as is a commitment to development
- Ease of migration – if you are transitioning from a different system, how easy is the process going to be?
- Initial and ongoing costs – setup, training, customization, adding users, support, etc.
- 3rd party integrations and additional features – does it talk to other apps that you use? is this free?
5. Test Drive before you buy.
Once you’ve shortlisted a few vendors, contact them directly with any specific questions you may have about issues you have identified. Ensure you have all the answers you need before moving forward with the buy. Most vendors will offer a free trial – take them up on it. For the test-run, set up dummy accounts with made-up data, or use one of your current or past matters. During your trial period, put the software through its paces, explore the interfaces, and assess the available workflows. If you have a clearly defined vision of your firm’s long-term needs, if you know what your security issues are and what features your firm needs to have, you should be able to test all these scenarios out to ensure the software is going to do right by you.
These tips should help get you thinking about what you need to know before you start shopping for law practice management software. You can also check out the LTRC Practice Management Software Comparison from the ABA, as well as their Blueprint Advisor Tool, just to get an idea of how each vendor lines up with your needs.