Almost every industry has leveraged technology to streamline its operations. The rapid expansion and adoption of legal software highlights the value law firms get out of such technology. The question many firms face today is not whether you need to buy law firm management software, but which one suits the needs of your business?
There are huge benefits of investing in good legal software, from streamlining everyday business activity across matter and document management to demonstrating stringent compliance with the requirements and policies laid down by the legal and judicial authorities. Furthermore, by implementing more efficient work practices through process automation, you shift the focus to revenue generating activity and providing enhanced client care.
Your choice in law firm management software should offer effortless practice management at the scale that you require. No matter the size of the firm or the number of fee-earners, your legal software must be able to handle all operational requirements, as well as satisfy the needs of your clients.
The decision-making process of choosing the right software, however, requires in-depth research and complete knowledge of your firm’s requirements.
Here are three critical considerations, before you even begin your software selection process.
1. Understand your firms’ long-term goals and strategic direction
Every firm, regardless of type or size, will own a strategic plan. Strategic planning is the process of defining your strategic direction and making decisions about how you will allocate your resources to pursue this direction.
A contract with a software vendor is a significant investment, requiring considerable up-front and maintenance costs over its lifetime. Most mid-size law firms retain their practice management software for 5-10 years or more, so the potential financial and operational consequences of a poor or rushed decision on software can be monumental.
Rather than beginning with a preferred features list, it is better to analyse your business requirements, aligned to your strategy. Consider what it is you are trying to achieve and what challenges you are looking to resolve. What are the long-term goals the firm is striving for? It is then for the software vendors to present how their software can support your goals.
During this evaluation process, it is also important to examine the limitations of your current technology stack. Evaluate your present software against the firm’s strategic plan and identify any gaps in alignment. It is critical you understand the existing roadblocks in keeping you on track to achieving your established long-term targets. This will become an important part of your assessment when you begin to vet prospective vendors, who will ultimately be required to demonstrate how their software will overcome your existing challenges.
To make sure you select the right software, take a close look at your operational requirements and projected growth to find the best match for your needs, rather than simply choosing the vendor that appears to offer the most attractive features or the lowest price.
2. Understand that you need a software partner, not a software vendor
Finding a vendor that is willing to establish a partnership is critical. What good is it if a vendor sells you a product, but does not care if you use it successfully? Software partners will work with your business beyond implementation to ensure the software helps your business thrive.
When it comes to finding a software partner, you should:
- Make sure the software provider’s business goals align with yours. Software is a partnership, so it is critical that the software provider shares the same vision or goals as you and is equally devoted to the partnership as you are when you’re searching for the right choice.
- Consider whether they offer ongoing customer service and support. You want to look for a provider who is open about what their software is capable of and how, exactly, it will assist your firm. Make sure you discover from the outset the training methods they offer to bring your team up to speed on how to operate the software. Software vendors offer a wide range of support and service, so finding the partner that fits your needs best is crucial.
- Make sure the software partner you choose is progressive with a long-term roadmap of development. Not only will it give you confidence that you are getting best-in-class software, but it will also increase the lifespan of your partnership and reduce the amount of upgrading or switching you’ll have to do.
3. Understand your deployment options: On-Premise, Cloud-based, or Hosted
Make sure any practice management system you are considering does not limit your ability to work wherever you need to. Most software vendors will offer one or a mix of the following deployment options:
- On-premise is the traditional way that firms have purchased and used software. You pay the total cost up-front and receive a product that you own the licenses to and is installed by your provider and run on your server. This requires you to own and manage servers in-house and complete all the back-ups and upgrades to the software. On-premise software can be set it up so users can access it online and remotely.
- Private hosted cloud means your software, whether you opt for a perpetual license or subscription, is accessible in a cloud environment that is dedicated entirely to your firm, via servers hosted and managed either within your firm or by an outsourced vendor. This provides the benefits of cloud computing but allows firms to retain greater control over factors such as when to implement upgrades.
- Cloud-based is a more modern and increasingly popular approach where a firm pays a subscription to use the software, which is made available to your online via a server that is owned and managed by the software vendor. Cloud computing means the server infrastructure, security, data integrity, backups and updates are all managed by the vendor.
Cloud-based practice management software offers many advantages over on-premise solutions, including constant availability and simple scaling and efficiency, all of which help lawyers increase the law firm’s productivity and profitability.
As an industry that has been slow to adopt new technology, a growing number of mid-size firms are progressively warming to the cloud. When selecting your software provider, it is important to ensure that they either already offer a cloud-based solution, including mobile apps, or can clearly outline a steadfast pathway to the cloud for their software.
Once you understand your firm’s long-term strategy, you can begin the process of assessing and selecting your software vendor.