“Law practice management software is too expensive.”
“I’m getting by just fine without it.”
“My practice is too small to justify using law practice management software.”
“I’m just not tech‑savvy.”
“I don’t want to have to learn a new system or software.”
These are just some of the reasons fellow criminal defense practitioners have given me as to why they are not using software to help organize their practices, communicate with their clients, and save their files.
I have spent countless hours talking to all the leading law practice management software companies to know that there is no “perfect” piece of software out there ‑ at least not yet. Despite that, in this article, I hope to lay out the reasons why you should consider using law practice management software.
I define Law Practice Management Software (LPMS) as a “unitary cloud-based platform that allows lawyers to manage their cases, clients, and practices while providing a secure method for communication, billing, and file storage.” Some software providers offer more, but none worthy of your consideration can do or be less than that.
Let’s break down my definition and take a look at how each of these essential components can assist you in your practice.
First, any software you are considering in 2022 and beyond should be cloud‑based. This means instead of storing files and data locally on your computer, or on an in‑office server, your data is stored in “the cloud.” So, does the cloud mean a server somewhere else? Not quite. When it comes to storage for LPMS data, most software developers are going to host your data securely and redundantly through data storage services provided by companies like Google and Amazon. Your data will be encrypted both at rest and while being transmitted through the cloud. This data is not located on a single server and is instead duplicated over several instances at various locations. This has several advantages. First and foremost, you won’t have a single point of failure or possible data loss. Second, you have greater protection against threats like ransomware. Third, you will have access to your data from anywhere ‑ the office, home, on the road, or even on vacation. Fourth, your data will be quickly accessible regardless of where you or your client is accessing the data from.
Rather than cobbling together solutions for various problems, an LMPS ideally offers the platform as the single solution to a number of problems. I highly recommend that as you are looking for an LPMS, you look for one that not only has the features outlined in this article, but also does so natively. In other words, an LPMS that was built from the ground up to offer these features is going to be superior to one that requires multiple log‑ins or has been pieced together by a company who purchased other smaller companies to add features, rather than coding the new features themselves.
Manage Your Cases
Law Practice Management Software allows you to manage everything about a case. An LPMS can track your leads so you know which ones convert to clients and which ones you need to follow up on or close out. Once a lead has been converted to a case, the electronic case file stored in the LPMS becomes the repository for everything about the case. You can build out contacts related to the case ‑ the client, family members, billing contacts, witnesses, the list goes on. It becomes the place to make case notes and updates, which you can access anywhere from any device that has an internet browser and connection.
Communicate with a Client
As criminal practitioners, we have all been there. You’re reviewing a phone dump and you come across attorney‑client communications ‑ emails to and from an attorney or even text messages. More than attorneys in other practice areas, we have clients who may one day end up with devices that are in police custody. The benefit of using an LPMS for communication is the written messages you send are never stored on a local device, such as a cell phone, laptop, or desktop computer. It’s exactly the same as checking your bank account through a browser window. When you log in securely, the information is always there and available for you to access, but the information is unavailable after the browser is closed or the logged‑in session ends.
Communicating through the LMPS also provides the advantage of having every written communication at your fingertips, even years later. Have you ever tried to answer a grievance or claim of ineffective assistance of counsel years after you resolved a case? Imagine how much easier your response would have been if you had been using an LMPS that stores all of your messages, text messages, and letters in a single place. How about the client who asks you the same question over and over ‑ wouldn’t it be easier to point to the specific date and time or thread where that answer can be found? For the client who wants to claim that you failed to tell them something, having a unified location for every secure message, text message, and email means there’s a much greater likelihood you have documentation of everything you told the client.
The ease of communication doesn’t just apply to the client. If you want to share non‑privileged information with a non‑client (like mom who wants to know when the next court setting is), doing so is a breeze through an LPMS.
Whether most of your cases are billed on a flat fee or an hourly basis, it helps to have contemporaneous and accurate time records. An LMPS allows you to easily create invoices for flat fee cases, send them for payment, with or with a payment plan, and then track time even though the client (or court) is not being invoiced for the time entries. In this scenario, the time‑keeping function is insurance against any future claims of ineffective assistance, or an allegation that you didn’t earn your flat fee, or a request for a full or partial refund. In cases that are billed by the hour, the advantage of a centralized time‑keeping system that can be converted to an invoice to a client with the click of a button is obvious. Using an LPMS means you can also get paid faster. You can set up payment plans, accept payments online, and send invoices that can be paid online from any device your client is on.
An LPMS also provides a secure location to save evidence. It is a great place to drop all of the discovery from the state. You control what a client has access to, and the default permission setting is that uploads are not shared with clients. This means you can safely upload discovery to store it for yourself. There are a number of advantages to this feature. First, you can access your discovery from anywhere. Second, you are no longer relying on the vagaries of the State’s discovery portal or being tied down by a hard copy of evidence. Third, you will have access to discovery even after the case is over, whether or not the State retains the evidence.
What does the future hold?
I’ve spent countless hours talking to the major software vendors in the LPMS arena. For all the features that are available today, the future landscape is going to be truly remarkable. I know this because I am actively working on bringing the next generation of LMPS to fruition. Here’s what the future holds:
Current LPMS offerings allow some basic automation functions such as the ability to create a specific task list in a case based on the case type. True automation is much more robust. Users have the ability to set up a series of actions ‑ sending secure messages, texts, emails, and setting up future events, etc. This ability to automate certain functions means you can send clients updates periodically even when nothing has changed. These touch‑points make a meaningful difference to clients who otherwise feel forgotten as the wheels of justice turn slowly.
Advanced Document Assembly
Any LPMS will give you the ability to create documents by merging known data fields. Advanced LPMS offerings allow for logical document creation, meaning the software can use conditional fields to create documents that require little to no further revision. For example, instead of having five versions of an engagement letter, you could have a single engagement letter template where you can select “hourly” or “flat fee,” the hourly rate or flat fee, “pre‑trial” or “trial” the gender of the addressee, and generate a tailored document with the click of a button. You can also create appropriate pre‑trial motions by making selections related to the nature of the case, the age of the alleged victim, and the types of evidence associated with a case.
KPIs stand for “Key Performance Indicators” that measure performance over a period. These KPIs are data points that give insight into how your business and employees are performing. Tracking data and understanding KPIs allow you to have focus and clarity about the state of the firm, measure progress, make decisions objectively, and make adjustments quickly. Leveraging the data kept within the LPMS allows you to create meaningful reports that tell you everything ‑ from how much you have in accounts receivable and the likelihood of collection to the percentage of your cases that are set on the trial docket. As you are looking for an LPMS, you should consider the quality of KPI reports the system is capable of producing. For example, you should easily be able to see the numbers of hours billed by case type and associate. You’ll quickly be able to identify your least and most profitable practice areas and adjust your advertising ac‑ cordingly. You can also track the source of every lead to see what existing advertising efforts are most successful.
Optical Character Recognition of All Uploads
A modern LPMS will automatically recognize the text in all the documents you upload, including the documents in discovery. This creates a powerful tool to search through voluminous discovery. Imagine the ability to search through all your files quickly to locate an officer who just got added to a Brady list.
It can be hard to contemplate adopting new software.
You debate whether it is worth the investment in time and money. The reality is that in 2022, we have to adapt to meet the demands of modern technology and our clients’ expectations. In doing so, we can create efficiencies revolutionizing how we practice law. Most LMPS offerings range from $50 to $150 per month per user. You will make that amount back in a single day through the implementation of such efficiencies. But there’s more to this than just saving money. Consider the peace of mind that comes with a greater work‑life balance ‑ something that is possible when every aspect of your firm is running more efficiently.