It can be a difficult question to answer. All providers claim that they supply efficient legal software, but how do you really know?

There are several key areas to look at when considering this issue. The key ones being:

  • Minimising downtime.
  • Removing the need for duplication of effort.
  • Automating repetitive tasks.
  • Support and training.

Minimising downtime.

Let’s start with the basics. If your software spends a disproportionate amount of time out of action, alarm bells should start ringing. There are two aspects to this issue: software downtime and server downtime.

Software downtime.

Most modern practice management software doesn’t fall over easily. However, there are circumstances, such as upgrades, patches and integrations with third party solutions that can lead to problems. The choice of software is a critical one for your business and the robustness of the product should be one of your key considerations.

Server downtime.

Server downtime is a completely different matter. It happens when the platform upon which your software is hosted fails. This can be due to things such as power and hardware failures, overload or even hacking.

Whatever the case, if your software is hosted on your own servers, they should be modern, contain the latest versions of the software and be maintained regularly. Additionally, if downtime is to be minimised, it is essential to have a robust backup and disaster recovery protocol. It is surprising just how many law firms don’t and the consequences can be literally disastrous. Backups should be taken at least daily and should be stored off-site or in a fireproof safe.

Having your own servers involves regular capital outlays and running and maintenance costs. However, there is an alternative: the cloud. Most modern practice management software can be operated using a cloud platform and the benefits of this approach are obvious:

  1. Security – your data will be stored in a server farm that is far more secure than your own premises and which benefits from the latest anti-virus and anti-hacking technology.
  2. Backup – these are done in duplicate or even triplicate and with much greater frequency than in a normal office environment and most cloud software providers mirror their servers for greater protection.
  3. Cost saving – most cloud based practice management software is delivered on a subscription basis – so there are no upfront hardware costs or maintenance staff issues to worry about.
  4. Flexibility – cloud-based solutions can be accessed from court, home, office or just about anywhere you can get access to an internet connection.

Removing the need for duplication of effort.

The bad old days of posting the same data between case files and accounts should be long gone. Yet, it is surprising how tasks such as this have survived even with the advent of technology. Many legal practices still use different software packages for practice management and accounting and often, never the twain shall meet.

At the very least, good practice management software should be capable of integrating seamlessly with your accounts software. The better packages on the market are complete systems, designed from the ground up, to include all aspects of case management, time recording and billing and accounts.

These systems remove the need for duplication of effort, save time and money and can be a valuable way of reducing staff overheads and increasing margins.

Lastly, on this point, it is worth considering your use of word-processing and calendar software. Good cloud-based practice management systems come with Microsoft Office licences as part of the subscription. This means that you can store Word documents, Outlook emails and calendar entries within the case file itself. This removes the need for the duplication of MS Office files and emails and lends itself to easier administration and availability of all pertinent case documents.

Automating repetitive tasks.

Many types of transactional legal work, by their nature, involve a series of repetitive tasks. A key consideration when choosing a new system should be its ability to build-in customised workflows.

When you configure your case management software you should have the option to establish workflows as rigidly or as fluidly as you see fit. The system will allow you to:

  • Completely automate routine tasks.
  • Track tasks completed and work undertaken.
  • Proactively prompt fee earners to complete tasks or move on to the next task.
  • Post time and costs to the file to track WIP.

Workflow management is ideally suited for structured transactional work. It’s not appropriate for all types of legal practice, but where it is, it can bring efficiencies and cost savings which will make a big difference to the bottom line. You can also use workflows to help you improve consistency and capture expert knowledge of how to do things.

Support and training.

Even the best systems are only as good as the people who operate them. This fact is often overlooked when choosing a new practice management system.

It’s not just a case of buying the software and installing it or paying your cloud licence fee; training and support are integral to the package. Good suppliers will include comprehensive initial training for your staff as part of the deal so it’s worth checking out what is on offer.

The same supplies to ongoing support. There are always going to be days when things don’t go to plan and it is then that you will need expert assistance and guidance. Again, is sensible to check out how the support package works. Is it based in the UK? What are its available times? Does the vendor of the software provide the support or is it outsourced?

When it comes to choosing efficient legal software, there are many factors to consider, but these really are the key points that should assist you to make an informed decision.