5 Tips for Legal Software Selection

As a legal consultant with over 35 years of experience working in law firms, I’ve learned a bit about legal software.  Choosing legal software is not for the faint of heart.  It takes time and focus to have a chance at getting it right.  These 5 Tips for legal software selection are learned through experience.  Hopefully, they will help you in your search.

  1. Know what you need to get OUT OF the software.
  2. Don’t make assumptions about what you think it does.
  3. Train now and again in six months.
  4. Don’t assume your colleagues’ software will work for you.
  5. The longer the software has been on the market, the more features have been added or fixed.

Know what you want OUT OF your legal software before you start looking.

Very often we start by looking at software features and get demos from great salespeople who tell you what the software can do.  However, you should start by understanding what you need from the software. Let’s use legal practice management software for example. Create a list of all the tasks you’ll need to perform with the software and create a chart.  This allows you to ask each software salesperson you are reviewing the same questions.

  • What do you need on your bills? All LEDES [Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard] are not created equal.
  • What do you need to calculate compensation? Some software does not allow split origination (Clio & Practice Panther are two examples).
  • What reports do you need? I was working with a client recently to get their IOLTA reports set up and their software (Docketwise) does not have the required reports available.  This required us to use Excel and hand input all the information and the continuation of inputting all the information into Excel.

Don’t make assumptions about what you think it does.

Be sure to walk through your client intake and the life cycle of a client and matter with the software.   When I started working with small firm practice management software, I assumed that the software would allow for conflict checking and a way to print out the findings.  The three different software platforms for various clients did not have this conflict check feature.  I have worked with clients on various software platforms that don’t have the needed features or were told that the feature was there, only to find out it was not.

When you are in a software demo, you control the demo. Ask the sales rep to SHOW you how things are done.  You can ask for multiple demos; you don’t have to settle for their canned demos.  Get the answers you need to make an informed decision.

Train now and again in six months.

When we roll out software, we learn a lot of features.  The trainer leaves and then you go about your regular job.  You use time entry every day so remember that.  Perhaps you do a lot of searching in your software, so you retain that information.  Whatever you do all the time will become familiar to you.  In about six months, you will be completely familiar with the functions necessary for your job.  You’ll probably start thinking, I wish the software did this or that.  Maybe you even search the help site.  However, what you are calling the feature, may not be what the software company is calling it.  This is a good time to get another training on features you are not using.

Pay for appropriate training and floor support.  Adoption rates go up when users learn features that make their life easier.  Adding training after the initial roll-out and when employees have become familiar with the software can increase the adoption rate and help with efficiencies.  Floor support is, in some cases, more important than training.  If a trainer is in your office on the first day of the roll-out [or more depending on the size of your firm], they can help people individually with the tasks the users need.  The users will be more attentive when the software is on their own computer, and they are being trained in their workspace.

When I do a NetDocuments roll-out, I offer an “open mic” type of follow-up where users can come in and ask questions about what they are having trouble with.  Everyone learns from the questions if it is done in a group setting.

Don’t assume the software your colleagues use is right for your law firm.

Not all law firms are the same, there are similarities, but they are different.  Even firms practicing the same type of law are different.  Some firms want more automation than others. Some firms track all hours, others only track client work.  Calculating compensation can be very different at firms and you’ll need detailed data in some instances to track it.

There are three groups of practice management software for law firms based on the number of billers and the complexity of the firm’s compensation and billing needs.  Roughly by size:

  1. Firms with less than 10 billers and no split origination, split billing, or complicated compensation calculations. These typically require QuickBooks or some financial software in addition to the PM software.
  2. For 11 to approximately 300 users.
  3. For firms with more than 300 users.

Use sites like Capterra, G2 and Software Advice to look up the various software and read the reviews.

The longer software has been in the market, the more features and/or corrections will be made.

Software as a Service (“SaaS”) software developers have a business model of creating software, putting it in the marketplace, making lots of money, selling the software, or buying other software to add features or pick up market share.

SaaS software is often released before it is ready for prime time.  Users bring problems to the developers and hopefully, if enough people bring the same problem to the developers, the software company makes the change in the software and pushes it out to all users.  Then, the marketing pitch is that the SaaS company listens to their users.  Which makes us, the end user, the beta testers.

For instance, sometime in the past ten years, while working with solo and small firms, I found that two different software (I won’t name names) didn’t run conflicts checks.  A search on a name could be run, but no actual report was generated.  A screenshot had to be used to document the search.  Another example is mentioned above regarding trust reports.

Therefore, the longer software has been out in the market, the more corrections have been made.  You are less of a beta tester.  No software is perfect.  None allow every attorney to work exactly the way they want, but some get closer than others.   Even if an attorney designed it, that doesn’t mean that attorney works the way every attorney does.

As you know, selecting software is extremely important for law firms.  Don’t decide what to purchase based on the salespeople or what your colleagues use.  Do your own due diligence.

If you need assistance choosing, we can help.

Written by Diane L. Camacho, CLM



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