Law Practice Management Software: Ultimate Guide
By Niki Black and Adrian Aguilera
It’s not easy being a legal professional these days. Clients expect more from their attorneys than ever before. Due to technological advancements, consumers are used to a seamless customer experience and instantaneous access to information from their service providers. And they expect the same from their lawyers. Cloud-based legal practice management software for law firms can increase productivity and cash flow through a user-friendly platform—while delighting clients with instant and clear communication methods. In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of law practice management, why it’s important, essential features to look for, and options that best fit your firm’s size.
What is Law Practice Management Software?
Too many lawyers run their practice using spreadsheets, siloed software tools, and piles of paperwork. Law practice management software is a comprehensive system and solution that allows lawyers to manage daily business operations and workflows in an easy-to-use interface.
For example, lawyers can improve their case management by:
- Quickly and seamlessly sharing information with colleagues and clients without being physically in the office
- Sharing calendar updates digitally
- Easily assigning and managing case information and documents electronically
- Communicating with clients without relying on someone in the office to pick up the phone
As a result of using this form of legal practice management, your firm can focus more on billable case work and less and redundant admin tasks.
Why is Lawyer Practice Management Software Important?
Many legal professionals struggle to integrate and balance their front office and back-office operations with their legal practices. That’s where lawyer practice management software comes in.
Unlike other professions, the legal domain has been late in adopting technology. However, the trend has significantly increased in recent years as more professionals find immense value in legal practice management software systems to organize and streamline their work.
Legal practice management software is not new and has been around for decades. Large law firms built on-premise systems to help manage their burgeoning work and grow their capacity. However, today’s cloud-based legal practice management software is a game-changer. These systems give lawyers 24/7 access to their firm’s data and case files from any location using internet-enabled devices. In addition, the best legal practice management software makes it easy to complete your administrative tasks efficiently and with minor errors – ensuring nothing gets left out.
Law practice management software is also becoming a necessity for staying competitive.
Essential Features to Look for in Lawyer Practice Management Software
Legal practice management software creates a work environment with better access to information and case files and supports better team coordination across a wide range of tasks. Everyone in your law firm has access to updated case and contact details anytime, and no one spends time in the office chasing down files and information. When it comes to assessing the best legal practice management software, what matters most is the presence and quality of features matching your practice requirements. Below are key law office practice management software features to look out for:
1. Case Management
The best law firm case management software enables you to stay organized, access all the information you need at the right time, and give each case the proper time it requires. You get an overview of all relevant case information from your dashboard using your desktop computer or mobile app. You also minimize the time spent doing menial tasks to improve and optimize your workflow.
Legal practice management systems provide several valuable calendar management tools for assigning tasks, managing to-do lists, and scheduling appointments. If the legal office software offers calendaring and task management separately, it may also include workflows to help you manage court and case deadlines.
3. Secure Client Communication
A legal management system should include secure communication and team collaboration features. These features are essential in light of the ABA Formal Opinion 477.
In this opinion, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that unencrypted email correspondence may not be sufficient for secure client communication and advises attorneys to assess the sensitivity of information on a case-by-case basis before choosing the appropriate method of communicating with clients. One of the easiest ways to meet this standard and communicate securely is by using reliable legal practice management systems with secure, built-in communication portals.
Legal billing features reduce the steps you need to send invoices to your clients. For example, you can automate the generation of editable invoices as per the billable time you enter by using the time-tracking features. Many software products also include functionality like LEDES billing codes. You can then send the completed invoice instantaneously to your client for payment.
5. Collecting Payment
This feature makes it easy for you to collect payment from clients and automatically reconcile the payment with their account. It should simplify an otherwise complicated process by making it convenient for clients to make payments and law firms to receive them, eliminating the need for multiple solutions to complete invoicing and payment processing.
A legal management system with accounting options helps firms keep their books up to date by automatically syncing detailed time and expense entries. As a result, your firm will increase consistency by eliminating uploads, downloads, and duplicate entries.
7. Contact Management
Contact management is a critical and practical feature that allows you to store, manage and track interactions with your contacts and clients in one organized location for future reference.
Robust legal practice management solutions make the process of preparing and signing routine case and intake documents simple and secure via eSignature. eSignature solutions for law firms should be designed for compliance with the ESIGN Act so that documents can be stored, encrypted, and sent securely for clients to quickly sign from any location.
9. Case Status Tracking
A user-friendly system helps you manage progress on each case as well as your firm’s overall caseload efficiency. This enables your firm to regularly review individual cases to ensure nothing slips through the cracks while also keeping an eye on your firm’s overall performance.
10. Customer Support
The best legal practice management software offers all clients direct access to key customer support features such as training, upgrades, and support to fully utilize the product. Some features to look out for include live customer support, in-depth product training, 24/7 knowledge base access, and guided implementation. You can then quickly learn to use the software to streamline your operations.
11. Document Assembly
Document assembly is a feature that allows law firms to more quickly assemble their commonly used case documents using templates that can easily be merged with information stored in MyCase.
12. Law Firm Insights
Legal insights reporting can help law firms make informed, data-driven decisions by providing actionable insights into firm billing productivity, overall financial health, caseload tracking, individual case status and more.
13. Lead Management
Lead management software features allow you to track, manage, and convert prospective clients into paying businesses for your law firm. A status board will enable you to see and follow the buyer’s journey from prospect to client and ensures no opportunities get lost on the way. This form of legal practice management enables you to record every touchpoint for reference and assigns staff to-dos, reminders, and consultation appointments.
14. Legal Document Management
Document management provides you with a built-in organizational system for your files. It often includes document collaboration and sharing features to secure external sharing with experts, co-counsel, clients, and more.
15. Online Payments
Payment processing is the other essential part of billing. It allows clients to immediately pay using their credit cards or make ACH payments upon receiving an invoice. If you accept online payments, you must comply with the regulations and compliance procedures set up for merchants. Good law practice management software must be compliant with all relevant authorities.
Security is a critical requirement of any reliable law practice management software. So look for one that delivers bank-grade law firm security. You need to protect your clients’ data and correspondence. Features to consider here include bank-grade encryption, data redundancy, and physical server security.
17. Task Management
Some law office software provides task management as separate features or together with calendaring. Here, you can establish task templates or workflows at the beginning of your case that automatically make calendar entries, tasks, and deadlines for your firm’s common case types.
18. Time and Expense Tracking
Time-tracking is another critical feature that lawyers need. With it, you can quickly enter and track time contemporaneously, irrespective of where you are using your mobile device. It ensures that you capture and charge for your billable time, which comes in handy as this makes a difference in your income. Some law practice management software solutions passively track activity on commonly billable actions that are missing a time entry so you can make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
On-Premise vs. Cloud (Online) Law Practice Management Software
Among the first considerations to make before purchasing lawyer practice management software is whether to invest in an on-premise or cloud-based solution.
1. On-Premise Law Practice Management Software
On-premise solutions are the more traditional software option. Companies buy licenses for individual staff and install the on-premise lawyer practice management software via download or a disk. The software then runs on each individual’s computer and stores the information on it.
Since it is essential to have information sharing and storage within the law firm, you will need to set up a network around the software and have a central file server to back up the data from all individual computers. The server is shared across the firm to give all authorized users access to data.
What’s more, the network is usually limited to one firm office, meaning that staff must be within the office to access, share, and backup data. Those working remotely or outside the office need access to the company’s virtual private network (VPN) for security.
2. Cloud-based Law practice management software
Cloud-based legal practice management software for law firms (also known as web-based, or software-as-a-Service) embodies the modern software model that has emerged in the last decade. It is accessible through a website browser such as Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Safari.
The vendor securely stores the data in their database instead of local office computers or servers, much like Google’s Gmail or Dropbox. Therefore, all you need to gain access is an authorized username and password to log into your law firm’s practice management software virtually. Data is accessible anywhere, anytime you have internet service. This offers several benefits, including low setup and maintenance costs, usability, compatibility, and security.
Choosing between On-Premise and Cloud-Based Software
Consider the five factors below before making your choice between the two forms of legal practice management:
1. Differences in Initial Cost and Maintenance requirements
The primary reason to choose one option over the other is the cost of setup and maintenance requirements, which varies significantly between the two law office practice management software options.
- Vendors usually offer it on a subscription-based model where you pay monthly or annually, resulting in predictable and inexpensive costs compared to on-premise solutions.
- Maintenance, security, and troubleshooting costs are minimal because the vendor hosts the software through a web browser. The service provider also provides regular updates with no need for you to download updates manually.
- The software does not conflict with other office technologies because it is web-based, and problems get solved immediately if they arise from the provider’s side.
- Most cloud-based providers enable you to easily export your data should you choose to change software solutions.
- Traditional on-premise programs typically require high upfront purchase and installation costs.
- Licenses are costly, and you need a large initial capital outlay to set up an in-house server network with the help of IT specialists.
- On-premise software will likely require regular IT support to manage updates and maintain the complex server network.
2. Work From Anywhere Accessibility
Ensure you have easy access and control over your data when selecting a software solution. Lawyers often work outside the office and need access to case information whenever and wherever they want it. An article in the ABA Journal reveals that 87% of lawyers say their workplaces allow them to work remotely.
The best cloud-based legal practice management software for law firms allows you to log in from anywhere, provided you have internet access and an internet-enabled device. Some go a step further to offer dedicated mobile app support. Therefore, people working on the go can access files on their smartphones whether in court or a meeting.
Your legal management system should be compatible with or replace most of your law firm’s existing software. Cloud-based solutions operate via a browser, making them compatible with systems like your email, Microsoft Word, and Quickbooks. Their capabilities can also be robust enough to replace the need for separate solutions for features like client intake forms, eSignature, and text messaging.
However, on-premise software is a bit complex and typically requires maintaining several separate, siloed technological solutions to manage firm workflows.
4. Ease of Migration
Consider the solution’s ease of migration, integration with your existing workflow, and use. Efficiency means finding the right tools for both lawyers and other legal staff at the firm. Hence, you need easy-to-grasp software solutions that don’t result in team frustration, training difficulties, challenging workarounds, and high turnover rates. Ensure your software of choice is easy to adopt and use and provides enough training and support.
Law Practice Management Software Considerations by Firm Size
The size of your law firm directly affects the value and benefits you will get out of law office management software.
1. Solo Practitioners
As a solo practitioner, you wear all the hats: legal, billing, accounting, marketing, managerial, and daily operations. Law practice management software allows you to easily manage your clients and cases while saving time on administrative tasks. You capture every billable minute, work from anywhere, organize everything in one place, and boost your firm’s bottom line by removing unnecessary administrative and overhead costs. You also have time to pursue new business and convert leads.
2. Small Law Firms
Like a solo practitioner, the best small law firm practice management software allows legal professionals to save time on administrative tasks in order to focus on what matters most, practicing law. Reducing the effort required by your firm to complete administrative duties keeps costs low and increases the time you spend with clients and on cases.
3. Medium and Large Law Firms
Practice management software enables large law firms with hundreds of attorneys and staff to increase operational efficiencies, gain insight into firm performance, and focus more on what drives firm profitability.
When to Pivot to Cloud-Based Legal Practice Management
It may be time to reassess your law firm’s IT systems.
- How do you know which software delivery method is best for you?
- Have you ever done a technology audit to determine the health of your systems and whether you are due to transition from unsupported software systems?
- Do you struggle with your backup and disaster recovery plan?
These questions can help you figure out whether it’s time to start thinking about upgrading your law firm’s systems. The good news is that it’s never the wrong time to upgrade to modern, web-based legal case management software.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted how lawyers get their work done and saw many go online to survive and grow. Now more lawyers are practicing law virtually and working remotely with cloud-based systems.
Still, even before the pandemic, many attorneys and law firms embraced cloud-based software solutions to manage their work and practices.
Premise-based legal software is complex and costly, and outdated technology can lead to data security risks, redundancies, and time-consuming inefficiencies resulting in decreased productivity. You also need at least one IT systems specialist to run checks, updates, patches, and manage your network and systems.
So if you find it increasingly challenging, costly, and time-consuming to run and manage your law practice management software on-premise, then it’s time to transition to cloud-based practice management software for law firms.
Get Started With The Best Law Practice Management Software
Most of the business decisions legal practices make are ad hoc determinations and gut reactions. Lawyers who do make structured and considered decisions positively affect their firm’s bottom lines. Hence, law practice management software is a welcome necessity to help lawyers increase their efficiency and focus on driving firm profitability.
This form of legal practice management also combines useful business tools into one repository and gives lawyers space, time, and freedom they need to manage their cases and make more coherent business decisions.
If you have not already incorporated law practice management software into your legal firm, now is the perfect time to do it. It’s arguably the best investment in your firm’s success you can make.
Try MyCase today risk-free with a 10-day free trial. We offer affordable monthly and yearly subscriptions. Plus, no commitment or credit card is required, and you can cancel anytime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best law practice management software?
It is software designed to manage your law firm’s administrative duties (e.g. calendar schedules, tasks, deadlines, and billing) and case and client records. It’s a complete system that helps you manage your law firm’s daily workflows and business operations.
It is best to choose a robust solution such as MyCase that can track and manage prospective clients (lead management), use eSignature to electronically sign documents, use secure online client portals for communication, and receive and reconcile online payments.
Why do I need law practice management software?
Today’s legal clients expect seamless and instantaneous access to their lawyers and information. What’s more, the competitive legal environment and the need to keep up with increasingly demanding clients makes it untenable to run a busy law firm, practice law, and attract new business.
Hence, many lawyers turn to practice management software to integrate and balance their front and back-office operations with their legal practices.
MyCase makes it easy to run your law firm by helping you with your cases, staff, leads, billing, finances, documents, client communications, and overall performance under one easy-to-use solution accessible online.
How does legal practice management software benefit my firm?
Practice management software helps law firms remain competitive within a demanding legal climate. It saves time through streamlined, standardized processes, centralized critical case details, a connected and in sync staff, and an exceptional client experience through convenient online collaboration, communication, and payment options.
How do I encourage firm members to use law practice management software?
First, you need to identify the law office software that is easiest to use and get buy-in from the attorneys and staff who will ultimately use the technology daily. Organizational alignment is the easiest way to encourage firm members to embrace the new software and ensure adequate training and adoption.
MyCase offers guided data migration, regular live online training and 24/7 access to a substantial knowledge base on our website. We also have a free guide to help clients adopt legal office software quickly in their firms.
What should I look for in a law practice management software?
The market features several legal software tools with varying features. It would help if your firm made an informed choice of software that hinges on factors such as your legal practice area, staff size, law firm needs, available learning curve, or implementation time for complete migration. You can also look at review sites to weigh the pros and cons of the top software solutions in the market.
Also consider the following:
- Compatibility with other office software
- Ease of use
- Feature set
- Availability of customer training and support
- Ease of migration
Is “case management software” the same as “law practice management software?
When considering your law firm management software options, you will notice two types of systems discussed: case management and law practice management. Often these terms are used interchangeably. To avoid getting confused and determine the best law firm management software, make sure the software you choose contains the specific features that fit your needs.
1. Case Management System: A suitable law office case management software gives you the tools you need to stay on top of the different aspects of your cases. These tools include client and contact management, centralized document storage, calendaring, and case status reports. What’s more, you can track, assign, and automate case-related tasks using case management software.
2. Practice Management System: Law office practice management software includes similar features to a law office case management system but has the added benefit of managing other processes critical to running your firm, such as time tracking, billing and payments, lead management, and client intake.
Why should I use law practice management software over Microsoft Outlook?
Microsoft Outlook is more of a general use software with practical applications suitable for many business models. However, the design of law practice management software is for specific use by legal professionals.
All the features of law office software address the unique challenges of running a law firm efficiently, from client communication to document organization and legal invoicing. Outlook does not have many of these features, making it harder for you to run an efficient practice and save time on administrative duties.