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Published March 12th, 2016 by

Legal Software for Law Firms

We have covered how a variety of different industries can benefit from customer relationship management software. It may have been surprising to learn that law firms can benefit as well. I know I hadn’t really paid much thought to the topic.  However, it makes quite a bit of sense after some thought. That opens up the question: are there other types of software that could benefit law firms?

As it turns out, the answer is yes there is. The legal profession faces many of the same challenges that other industries face, as well as some unique ones of their own, that have resulted in a wealth of software vendors rushing in to meet their needs. In this post we’re going to talk about the best legal software, what to look for in legal software, and what legal software even is (for the uninitiated).

Back to the Basicswhat is legal software – What is Legal Software?

Some of my friends have gone to law school, and the consensus is in: law school may teach you how to research cases, but it doesn’t teach you how to run a business. New lawyers face a huge learning curve when it comes to managing a practice, and the right software can help with soften this blow a little bit.

Legal software is tailored to the specific needs of the legal profession. While it shares similarities with other types of software we have covered, it really is its own beast. The legal profession needs support for case management, time tracking, document assembly, contact management, docketing, and time based billing. The best legal software will provide all of these features.

Features of Legal Software

Let’s take a closer look at each of these features, shall we?

  • Case management – similar to project management, the case management features can support to do lists, searching of tasks, and scheduling of tasks. Legal software takes these steps a little further with the implementation of checking for statutes of limitation and conflicts of interest. After all, if you’re a defense attorney and your client is charged with a crime, one of the first things you are going to want to know is the statute of limitations for that crime. Checking for conflicts of interest is also important for contract and corporate law, as the mere appearance of impropriety can have serious consequences.
  • Legal research – research is time consuming for any field, especially the legal profession. The best legal software will have integrated capabilities for searching popular legal databases, such as Westlaw, with just the click of a button. This will help save you valuable time when conducting case research.
  • Document assembly – the legal profession relies heavily on past precedent. This means that legal teams have to spend a great deal of time collecting information from past cases, and this is a time consuming process, as one might imagine. The best legal software includes features to assemble these documents for the team, thus cutting down on the time required to prepare a case substantially.
  • Email management – you should have the capability to store legal related emails and retrieve them with the touch of a button. Sorting emails by case or client is also a nifty feature, as it helps keep you organized. The software should also support features like email deletion to protect sensitive client information. Look for integration with other popular software like Outlook.
  • Task management – As anybody who has dealt with any government organization knows, deadlines are everything. Documents have to be filed on time, or you have to go right back to the beginning at best, or you’re completely out of luck at worst. This necessitates a rigorous task management system that provides a variety of notification options to make sure the attorney is prompted to complete critical tasks well before they are due. Critical features for task management are
    • Pop up reminders
    • Email notifications
    • The ability to delegate tasks to team members and follow up
    • Priority classification to indicate which tasks must be completed most urgently
    • Task type for operational analysis later
    • The ability to daisy chain tasks together
  • Time keeping – since most lawyers bill by the hour, it is important to keep track of hours spent on a project so the client can be accurately billed. One feature you’re going to want to look for is integration with other accounting software such as QuickBooks and the ability to set up invoicing for clients. These two features will go a long way towards streamlining your operations.
  • Contact management – like many other industries, the legal field is highly dependent on personal relationships. Being friends with the judge can go a long way towards getting leniency for a client, so the ability to track your contacts is another critical feature. Look for integration with other familiar software such as Outlook.
  • Fort Knox like security – as an attorney you are dealing with highly sensitive information. Needless to say, protecting this information is paramount to staying in business. Make sure your legal software has robust security features that restrict access to information to only this with a strong need to know.
  • Client portals – while not strictly necessary to run your firm, this is a really nice feature to have. Clients love real time updates, but as an attorney you’re too busy to give it to them. The ability of the client to get some visibility into their own case will really help with their peace of mind as well as free you up to do more value added tasks than updating your clients every 15 minutes.

As you can see, many of these features are similar to what you would find in project management or customer relationship management software. However, legal software gives its own twist on these other software platforms to cater to the needs of legal professionals.

Other Considerations When Choosing Legal Software

One trend that has really taken off in the legal software realm is the use of mobile applications. This makes a huge amount of sense given that attorneys are usually on the go. Whether heading to court or meeting with clients, they have a need for access to critical information when they are away from the office. This makes billing easy as well as on the spot quick and dirty research to answer a pressing question for a client. When choosing the best legal software for your firm, make sure that it has mobile integration so that you aren’t chained to your office desk 24/7.

legal software featuresAnother factor to consider is the use of cloud services.  This is all the rage these days, and the billing model associated with it even has a fancy name: software as a service, or SaaS for short. What this means is that instead of licensing each computer separately you pay a monthly fee that covers up to a certain number of devices. The upside is that your upfront costs are much lower as is the need to invest in expensive desktop systems. If you run a large law firm it also saves you the need to host a dedicated server to use as a database, which requires personnel and infrastructure costs that can eat into your bottom line.  One thing to consider, however. It’s not all sunshine and roses. Giving up control of your client’s information means that someone else has control, so you have to do some extra due diligence. Is the software vendor running an in-house cloud, or are they using a mega hosting provider like Amazon? You’re going to want to opt for the latter so that you have better uptime and greater peace of mind when it comes to protecting your clients’ sensitive information from nefarious hackers and disgruntled script kiddies.

The other side of the SaaS coin is that over time you are going to spend more than had you just licensed the software outright. Of course, if you licensed it you would be sacrificing mobile functionality and you would have to shell out the big bucks for the infrastructure. In addition, when you stop paying for the SaaS you lose access to the data. Of course, the vendor won’t hold it hostage – you will be able to retrieve it. But your access would be interrupted. If you decide to change legal software providers, make sure you understand this first and have a plan to deal with it before it is a huge issue.

But wait! There’s more. Chances are good that you are already using some sort of software in your practice to manage at least some functions. You may be using some of the best CRM software or you might be using accounting software. You will want to see if the legal software you are considering has the capability to integrate with these other systems, or if not, if it can replace them in a satisfactory manner and import critical data. Make sure to investigate this point, as you don’t want to assume something and then end up disappointed later.

Conclusion

Whether you run a massive law firm with hundreds of attorneys and legal assistants or you are a budding young attorney just starting your own firm, you can benefit from legal software. You went to law school so you can practice law and help people navigate the esoteric complexities of the legal world. You didn’t go to law school so you could spend hours a day entering information into spreadsheets, hoping you don’t forget some minute detail.

The point of legal software ilegal software concernss to free up attorneys to do what it is they do best: practice law. The benefit of this is that you are free to service your clients and ultimately grow your business. You’re not just buying software for its functionality, you’re buying it so you can build your legacy.

When you’re ready to make the leap, be sure to do your homework. Shop around and see which legal software is right for your law firm. Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor pointed questions, once you take the plunge it can be a real pain to roll back out. Treat the decision to purchase like you would any other business decision – it’s essentially entering into a long term relationship. You have to be compatible!

We hope this has been helpful in your search for the best legal software.

Stay tuned for the next article!

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