When Do I Need Legal Software?

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Attorneys may not be known as particularly tech-savvy, but even so I was surprised to learn that only about half the attorneys surveyed in the 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report reported having practice management software available.

For some, this is tolerable. For others, like “Mr. My Lawsuit Got Thrown Out Because I Couldn’t Figure Out How to Use Microsoft Calendar,” not so much. Most lawyers are just wasting time and money manually completing tasks which can be automated.

What surprised me about the low adoption rate is that time is so valuable in this profession. Software exists to save time, so it would seem there’s no way a software solution, implemented properly, wouldn’t pay for itself.

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“Attorneys from firms of any size can benefit from an integrated practice management solution,” Clio’s Derek Bolen told me over email. “Whether you work in big law or run a virtual solo practice, you’re already using piecemeal technology to manage different aspects of your legal work—CRM, document management, time tracking and billing software, and more. Unifying these solutions within one product helps streamline your firm and promote greater efficiency—a must in an increasingly competitive legal field.”

Below are the major ways law practice management software saves time. If you spend more than a few hours per day on any of these tasks, you will likely benefit from automating the process with software.

Timekeeping and Billing

In the 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report mentioned above, 85% of respondents overall said that time and billing software was available at their firm, but just 62% actually use that software. It would seem that attorneys are manually tracking their time and having someone else input it. According to the report, “Needless to say, that’s an arrangement that’s both inefficient and prone to mistakes.”

An integrated timekeeping and billing system’s benefits are obvious, perhaps more than any other category. From the report:

Add an hour long client meeting to your calendar in Outlook and you’ll eventually need to reconcile that hour in a separate time tracking system. Use an integrated system, and the hour you place on your calendar can be automatically tracked and added to billable time for the given matter. Better yet, that time can then be automatically included on the next invoice you generate for the client.

Every software will combine timekeeping and billing. The difference, again, comes down to sophistication. For example, Clio’s timer allows you to start a timer for one client, pause it, and start a new one for another client. So if you wanted to answer a phone call for one client without saving your work for another, you could.

Most practice management software products integrate with accounting software such as QuickBooks or Xero. The degree to which they integrate, however, varies considerably.

Documents

Assuming you want to stay in practice profitably, billing and timekeeping might be the most important thing to get right. But it certainly isn’t the most time consuming aspect of your day. Before you get that paper, you got to organize your papers. “Lawyers spend their days drafting, editing, collecting, reviewing, and organizing vast quantities of documents; now they just do it on a computer or tablet rather than on paper,” according to the 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report.

Only about a third of practitioners flying solo have access to document management software, but 96% of attorneys at the largest firms reported they have access to such software, according to the report.

When it comes to time savings, document automation alone is reason enough to invest in law firm practice management software. Most attorneys create a lot of the same kinds of documents, with the same information. Software automates document and field creation, and inputs the information for you.

The level of automation varies. Some software products allow for multiple templates, others, like MyCase, has the same fields appear for every matter type.

Correspondence

Until judges, clients and opposing counsel can read your mind, you’ll need to email them on the regular. The challenge is associating all those emails with the right matters.

Nearly every law practice management software product integrates with email. This usually involves automatically forwarding emails to your account. But watch out, because some software products won’t automatically link the emails to matters. But even without that extra automated step, the time saved by email integration is immense.

Some products will let you compose email from inside the software. Some will only link outgoing emails, not incoming.

Calendars

Judges don’t play when it comes to deadlines. You need to be sure your calendar doesn’t play either.

You use your calendar daily, so a law practice management software product which integrates with the calendar you use most is very nice to have. Some will only sync with Outlook or Google calendar, some will work with both. You also need one which integrates closely. If you’re just getting started, it may not be a problem that existing appointments don’t automatically transfer over into your software. If not, this can be a dealbreaker.

Contacts

Most attorneys are using Outlook as their only contact manager. This is lazy and short sighted. Sure, it makes sense to keep your contacts close to your correspondence. But it makes more sense to keep your contacts close to your documents, matters, timekeeping, and billing. Without connecting software, it’s difficult to connect contact information in Outlook to this information.

“Imagine, for example, using a document assembly tool to automatically generate a demand letter on behalf of your client,” the 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report asks. “The information about your client that you might want to include in that letter—their name, title of their company, and so forth—has already been carefully entered into Outlook, but you’ll have to repeat that data entry with your document assembly tool. The same may be true for time and billing, project management, or any number of other features that can and should draw on a firm’s contact information.”

At the end of the day, time is money. When do you need practice management software? As soon as your start practicing. The only question is: Which system will you use the most? Our law practice management software comparison can help you decide.

Looking for Law Practice Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Law Practice Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

Comments

[…] Legal software can save attorneys tons of time on timekeeping and billing, creating documents and filling out forms, and managing contacts, correspondence, and calendaring. But whether you’re just starting up and trying to keep overhead low, or aren’t yet convinced software will be worth spending money on, you don’t want to shell out lots of dollars. […]

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That’s a really good point Rick.

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Great presentation in an easy to use format. One area which could be added is “Accounting”, specially Trust/IOLTA Accounting. Accounting for client funds (Trust Accounting) and Billing are highly interrelated and a solution which offers both within one system can save lot of time and headache.

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