Law Practice Management Software In 2020 (The Definitive Guide)

Far too many law firms and legal teams are still running their entire practice in some combination of these three methods:

  1. A massive collection of spreadsheets
  2. Multiple software tools that each do one specific thing
  3. Piles and piles of manila folders in a storage room
Spreadsheet and Dashboard for Lawfirms

A spreadsheet for billable hours, a folder full of papers for each client, a software tool for accounting, one more for managing every client relationship, and the list goes on…

Everything lives in its own place—completely separate from the rest of your documents, files and tools. So anytime you need to find something specific, you’re left chasing down papers, navigating spreadsheet rows and troubleshooting your siloed software tools.

Not ideal.

So if spreadsheets, file folders and single-function tools isn’t the best approach—what is?

All-in-one law practice management software.

In this guide, we’re going to dive into all things related to managing your law practice or in-house legal team with one software tool.

So if you’re interested in learning:

  • The benefits of law practice management software
  • What to look for in a software solution
  • How to get the most out of your practice management software

Then you’ve come to the right place. Throughout this guide, we’ll be touching on all three of these topics and more. You can use the table of contents below to jump ahead as well.

Let’s get started…

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What are the benefits of law practice management software?

Improved security

What would happen to your firm if your IT systems were hacked?

What’s even more eye-opening is this:

95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error.

No matter how strong your IT department is, if the software and tools you’re using to manage your practice don’t have strong built-in security features, your firm is going to be at risk of security breach.

A simple human error can happen at any time, and it doesn’t have to come from within the IT department for a multi-million dollar breach to occur.

According to The American Bar Association’s TechReport 2019, 26% of law firms surveyed have reported some form of security breach, and 19% don’t even know if they have or not. What’s worse—only 35% of firms are actively taking action to prevent cybersecurity breaches.

TechReport found that the consequences of a breach can be significant as well, including:

Security Breach Consequences Data from The American Bar Association

When it comes to hosting your documents, data and client information—you have two options:

On-premise or with cloud-based software.

While on-premise solutions may have been the most secure in the early 2000’s, technology has evolved exponentially over the past two decades. It may be time to re-evaluate your current security systems to keep yourself protected from a potentially devastating data breach.

With cloud-based practice management software, you can keep your data, documents and confidential information safe and secure. This is because the best cloud-based practice management software offers security features like data encryption, data backup and recovery, two-factor authentication within their product. These are the types of security features that will help you and your entire team sleep better knowing that different levels of security are in place.

More efficient workflows

How often do you find yourself going through the exact same processes over and over and over and over again each and every day? Repetitive tasks like…

  • Copying notes from your email inbox to client files
  • Getting information out of attorney inboxes so other attorneys & paralegals can have access to the info they need
  • Exporting data from one tool and copying it into another
  • Keeping track of worked hours, billed hours & collected hours in Excel spreadsheets—only to have to re-do the work when you realize it was an older version of the spreadsheet
  • Manually tackling client intake in a notepad, then copying the details into a separate location online
  • Writing the same emails manually for each new client

… how many hours?

One of the biggest challenges facing legal teams that aren’t using all-in-one practice management software is the amount of manual, low-value tasks required before the real, high-value work begins.

This challenge especially hits home for all of the case managers, paralegals and attorneys still working toward partner status, since a lot of this manual work tends to fall onto them.

It’s leading to a decrease in overall productivity as well—from the Am Law 100 to midsize firms:

In 2019, demand, rates and headcount all grew—but productivity for firms of all sizes declined.

Great practice management software can help simplify these processes and workflows.

If your software has functionality to support document management, matter management, and client relationship management (CRM) with automation features to help you tie it all together, you can set up automated workflows that do a lot of the manual work for you.

Set up a “trigger” that tells the workflow when to start, add each of the steps in the process that need to happen next, turn it on and you’re all set.

Easier access to your data

The more data your firm collects, the more difficult it can become to actually pull any relevant insights from it.

Without practice management software that can combine your data and show you exactly what you’re interested in seeing, you’re going to be left chasing down data analysts and IT professionals around your firm in the hopes of them being able to find what you’re looking for.

With the right solution in place, you can visualize any combination of key performance indicators you’d like in a custom dashboard like this:

And you can configure the dashboard to update in real-time, meaning you’ll have access to the most up-to-date performance metrics no matter the time of day—without having to ask the IT department to drop what they’re doing and find it for you.

Let’s use an example:

One of the trends spotted in the 2020 Report on the State of the Legal Market is that lawyers at nearly all levels are billing fewer and fewer hours:

Without having clear and easy access to your own firm’s data, the only way you’ll be able to see a trend like this is by waiting for the newest State of the Legal Market report each November.

Instead, if you’re using practice management software with built-in reporting and the ability to create custom dashboards, you can monitor how many hours attorneys are billing in real-time, 24/7. This way you’ll be able to spot the trend and diagnose what’s causing it before losing revenue.

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Transparency across your firm & clients

On top of the productivity benefits that come from managing all of your tasks, workflows, conversations and case work from one central location, you’ll also get something just as important:

Firm-wide transparency.

When everything is happening in one place, it becomes a lot easier to manage the work being done at all levels of your firm.

  • Managing partners can see what’s happening at a high level for each and every case without needing to ask the attorneys leading them.
  • Lawyers can better understand what work is complete and which tasks paralegals are  still working on.
  • Other departments in the company can track progress toward certain legal project deadlines

And just as the internal operations of the firm become accessible, an all-in-one practice management solution can also make client communication and case management much more transparent.

For example, with Litify you can set up a client portal that shares key dates, case progress, current status, etc.

Centralized & accessible documents

One of the greatest benefits of all with practice management software is having complete, centralized access to all of your documents at any time.

Instead of digging through old file folders—both physical copies or buried on a hard drive somewhere—you can host all of your documents using cloud-based storage.

What does cloud-based storage mean?

No more carrying around thick file folders or only being able to access your files on one device.

Just like how Google Drive or DropBox can store your personal files and let you access them from your laptop or cellphone anytime and from any place, document management software, like Docrio by Litify, will let you store every single client file in one central location. The best law practice management software solutions provide you with the ability to integrate with any existing docs solution as well, so if you’re using a solution like iManage you don’t need to switch.

And by embracing a solution that has centralized and accessible data, you’ll be able to access all of your client records any time you need them, whether you’re at the office, while you’re travelling, working from home, meeting with clients—anywhere.

Section 2: Must Have Software Features

Best law practice management software features

Document management & search

You have a lot of documents…

Case files, signed contracts, legal documents, client statements—the list can go on and on. A law firm with 100+ lawyers on staff can easily collect tens of thousands (or more) of documents over time.

If you’re looking for software you can use to manage your entire law practice, document management functions are an absolute must. You need to be able to keep all of your documents stored in one place, that way you don’t have to go rooting through bankers boxes whenever you need something.

But simply hosting all of your documents isn’t enough if you have no simple way of finding what you’re looking for as your document library fills up.

And that’s where document searching comes into play.

Having the ability to search your entire database of documents can save your team dozens of hours every single month.

And to make your searching capabilities even more specific, look for practice management software that offers advanced searching as well. Features like being able to filter by file type, date added, document creator, which matter it’s related to, and more can make the searching process even more effective.

Client relationship manager (CRM) 

A quality client experience can be a difference maker between a client turning into a referral and a client you never hear from again. A client relationship management solution will help your team onboard, monitor, strengthen and manage relationships of all shapes and sizes. It will also offer you the ability to access the information stakeholders need to make strategic and informed business decisions.

The best CRM solutions will provide a centralized place for all party information and interaction history. It will also offer you the ability to automate task management, and arm you with visual aids to showcase firm productivity in real time. You will be able to see everything happening with the people you’re interacting with.

How you manage relationships with clients can affect sign-up rates. A quality CRM provides your stakeholders with visibility into the health of the firm, existing clients and potential pipeline. These insights can help you better understand how to grow but also how to improve your intake efforts.

On an intake level, a great CRM will offer you the ability to:

  • Create templated questionnaires to identify qualifying clients
  • Add multi-conditional logic to questionnaires (i.e. if the case falls into a certain category, adjust the follow-up questions to align)
  • Boost the productivity of your intake agents

After the intake process is complete and a case has been validated and confirmed, instead of manually copying everything you learned during the intake stage into a new case file for the client, make sure your practice management software offers a seamless transition from intake to new active matter.

Matter management workflows

If you have to manually create the same set of tasks over and over again with every new matter you create, you’re losing time and wasting resources.

The same can be said for manually updating the statuses of matters.

Great practice management software lets you create workflows.

And these workflows will help automate the simple and repetitive tasks that come with setting up and managing new matters inside the software.

For example, with Litify you can create matter plans—templated workflows that automatically set up all of the tasks, intake questions, timelines, and processes that need to happen throughout the case.

One of the best and most common ways to use matter plans is by case type. In the example above, they’ve created a matter plan for automobile accidents. Anytime a new automobile accident case comes in, they can use this template to build the entire matter in just a few clicks.

Smarter email management

First thing’s first, your practice management software must be able to connect to the email inboxes of your staff.

Plenty of matter conversations are taking place through email. And if you don’t have a way to quickly and easily move information and context from your inbox to an active matter, you’ll wind up spending countless hours doing this manually and potentially skipping over important information that the case team needs to see.

Email syncing alone is a must…

But what separates the best software from the rest is what you can actually do with this functionality. Simply copying all of your emails from the inbox to a case file is one thing, but when you have advanced syncing features to customize, that’s when you’ll be able to get the most value out of your inbox.

You can choose to only sync certain types of emails, turn automatic sharing on or off, or save complete threads. These advanced settings will let you customize your case and document management processes in any way you’d like.

For those who like to work inside of their inbox, a good practice management software will also provide you with features that go beyond a typical inbox. For example, it may offer a search feature that allows you to search for any record in your org, select it, and save an email to it. You can then use this search to save an email to a record beyond the suggested records offering more flexibility all without leaving your inbox.

Section 3: Must Have Software Integrations

Best law practice management software integrations

Email tools

A lot of the conversations you, your team and your clients are having happen through email. Whether you use Outlook, Gmail or another platform—your practice management software should be able to connect directly with your email inbox.

If not, you’ll wind up spending countless hours each month copying notes and context updates from your inbox to a case file. And without a real-time sync, paralegals will constantly be left trying to pull emails out of the inboxes of attorneys across the firm.

Integrations to look for:

  • Outlook
  • Gmail

eSignature tools

Chasing down signatures can be difficult—sometimes near impossible.

That’s why eSignatures (electronic signatures) have been so popular. With so many of your conversations happening virtually, it’s not always possible to meet face-to-face with a client or partner to review documents and lock in handwritten signatures.

With an eSignature tool connected directly to your practice management software, you can automatically keep track of which documents have been approved, and even trigger automated workflows after certain events, like a contract being signed.

Integrations to look for:

  • AssureSign
  • DocuSign

Accounting & financial tools

Of course, you want to make sure you can easily connect your accounting software to your practice management software. Your accounting department will thank you for it when they don’t need to create custom spreadsheets just to move data from one place to another.

Quickbooks, Accounting Seed, Blackthorn—whichever tools you use, you want to make sure it connects to your central software. And one of the best ways to guarantee this is by using apractice management software that connects to the entire Salesforce ecosystem.

You can easily use the Salesforce integrations to move data from one point to another without a bunch of spreadsheets in the middle.

Integrations to look for:

  • Accounting Seed
  • Quickbooks
  • Blackthorn

Marketing tools

The legal industry is competitive. There are plenty of firms vying for the same clientele, and marketing should be considered a major piece of the puzzle.

One of the primary channels for these efforts should be through Google Ads, where you can pay for your website to show up at the top of the search results page for specific keywords and search terms.

Measuring the performance of these advertising efforts all the way through from how many people saw your ads to how many of them became a client is key to ensuring your marketing budget is being put to the best use possible.

Of course, another one of the most powerful marketing tools on the internet today is the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

It covers email marketing, social media marketing, digital advertising, lead generation and nurture campaigns—everything there is to manage from a marketing standpoint can be done inside of Salesforce.

If your law practice management software runs on the Salesforce platform, connecting your marketing efforts to your sales efforts and CRM (client relationship management) becomes seamless.

Integrations to look for:

  • Google Ads
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud
  • CallRail
  • SMS Magic

Flexibility & customization

At the end of the day, the tools and categories listed in this section are still just a small sampling of what’s available for your firm.

These may be some of the most commonly used tools, but every firm’s workflow and toolbox is going to look different. For that reason, one of the most important integrations to look for in a practice management software solution isn’t necessarily a specific tool A to tool B connection—it’s the ability to amplify the way you use all of your tools by connecting them all.

And this is best done through the use of APIs.

In short, an API lets you connect any piece of software you’d like to another. If your practice management software can connect your tools through an API, that’ll give you the flexibility to create brand new functionality and workflows between the tools you’re already using today.

Features to look for:

The Salesforce AppExchange includes a plethora of apps built specifically for Salesforce. As the leader of cloud-based customer relationship management software — many of the most innovative and popular solutions develop a Salesforce application to serve Salesforce customers. The AppExchange offers thousands of solutions ranging from analytics and marketing to finance and customer support. Each solution in AppExchange is customized for Salesforce and will automatically update if you’re using a solution built on top of Salesforce.

Section 4: Choosing The Right Software For You

How to choose the best solution for your firm

Comparing functionality

One of the most important factors when selecting practice management software is what functionality it offers. What can this solution accomplish for your firm?

First, let’s recap the functionality every practice management software should have:

  • Document management software
  • Seamless client intake & relationship manager (CRM)
  • Matter & task management workflows and automated templates
  • Advanced syncing with your inbox

Technically speaking, you could try to find a software tool for each of these individual functions—one tool for documents, another for intake, another for task management and another that connects to your inbox.

If you take this approach, you’ll run into a few serious issues:

Not all tools play nicely with each other

You may find a great document management software your team wants to use, but if it doesn’t connect to your matter management software, your processes are going to be broken.

Just to maintain each tool, you’ll need your team to spend hours and hours each day manually downloading and moving documents to your matter management tool, then back to your documents toll—all day long.

What’s your ROI on a digital transformation? 

According to the 2019 AppDirect Digital Economy Report, 78% of companies are undergoing digital transformation and 77% of executives say digital transformation is very important to their overall business strategy. This reality is enticing more and more organizations to embrace the cost of a digital transformation.

If you have been investigating and considering an investment in practice management software then you’ve probably seen a wide range of pricing. You will have likely come across everything from one-off tools that could be anything from $50 to $100 per user per month to solutions that cost thousands of dollars for implementation. The truth is…

The costs vary depending on the requirements of your business and your organizations commitment to innovation & digital transformation. According to Gartner, more than $1.3 Trillion in IT spending will be affected by the shift towards the cloud by 2020. More organizations are investing in system infrastructure, business processes, application software and infrastructure software than ever before.

Tools that only do one specific thing can seem inexpensive at first when you compare them to all-in-one practice management software. In fact, Forbes predicts that 83% of enterprise workloads will operate either on the cloud with just 27% being on-premise. This is a 10% drop from 2019 when it was estimated that 37% of enterprises still used on-premise solutions.

This shift is happening because organizations are realizing the ROI of embracing the cloud. For example, let’s say you have a paralegal who is tasked with sorting through folders and spreadsheets to find legal documents every single week. A digital transformation could help ensure you don’t need to hire more people while arming your paralegal with a cloud solution that allows them to get documents quickly by searching for keywords within its title, metadata, or the actual body of text within the document. This transformation alone could take something that would typically take hours and turn it into a task that takes minutes.

Whether you’re leveraging a platform that syncs with multiple solutions or you’re looking for an all-in-one solution — a digital transformation requires an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. The truth is most digital transformations are priceless so find a solution that will help modernize your practice and offer you the ability to grow and scale with ease

Section 5: Getting Started With Your New Software

How to get started with new law practice management software (what to do first)

Integrate your most important tools

As you become familiar with what’s inside your new practice management software, one of the first things you should start to do is connect the third-party tools you know you’ll be using frequently.

Start with tools like…

  • Your email platform (generally Outlook or Gmail)
  • Your calendar platform (also Outlook or Google typically)
  • Your eSignature tool of choice
  • Your document management software
  • Your accounting, billing and financial software
  • Any other tools that you plan to use on a day-to-day basis

By connecting these staple tools early on, you’ll be able to work with them directly as you move forward with setting up matter management, document management, task management, time tracking and other systems.

Also, if you’re not certain on how to integrate certain tools or how you’ll be able to use the integrations once they’re set up—that’s okay too.

You don’t need to connect every single tool on day one.

As you get more comfortable with the workflows and functionality of your practice management software, you can start to integrate more features and software.

Create standard intake form templates

Once you’ve connected your primary accounts and tools, it’s time to set up your intake questionnaire templates for new matters and clients.

You likely already have an intake form template somewhere—whether it’s a hard copy or buried in a Word document—that you can use as a starting point.

But if your practice management software offers advanced logic-based rules where follow-up questions are determined by previous answers (i.e. having a different set of questions based on whether an individual is receiving medical treatment), now is the time to get your feet wet with these.

You don’t need to build out every possible branch for your primary intake questionnaire on day one. Start with your most common case types and questions, then expand over time as you find new paths and avenues for intake.

One of the great features with Litify is the ability to quickly turn intakes into matters, which leads us perfectly into the next phase:

Streamline your case & matter management systems

The more streamlined you can make your processes around intake and matter management, the more efficient your firm will be able to operate.

That’s where automation and templates come into play.

With top-of-the-line practice management software, you’ll have the ability to create templates for an entire matter—from the initial setup to the final stages. All of the tasks, who’s responsible, when deadlines need to be set, dates for important meetings—everything that needs to happen over the matter can be pre-built.

Then when the time comes to escalate an intake into a matter, you won’t need to create the entire case from scratch. You can simply select the matter template you want to use and you’re ready to go.

Sometimes the easiest way to create a matter template is by building out an actual active matter first, then removing the personal details after the fact.

Rather than trying to remember and document every single step of the process without an example to reference, create an active matter manually from scratch first.

As you do that, you can…

  • Plan the tasks that need to happen
  • Set key timelines and deadlines
  • Assign the team members who will be involved
  • Set up a client portal to share with your client
  • And more.

Then once you’ve built your first matter, make a copy, remove the personal information and save it as a template.

Build your most important custom reports & dashboards

Your matters have been created and are in motion, your intake process is set, your tools have been connected and your firm is running on full cylinders—what comes next?

Measuring and monitoring your success.

Which numbers are the most important to your firm’s success? Take a moment to write them down on a piece of paper. Think of the metrics you find yourself constantly asking data analysts to find for you.

With your new practice management software, you’ll now be able to monitor these metrics (and any others you’re interested in) any time of the day with custom dashboards and reports.

Once you have all of your case, client and financial data in one central location, you can set up custom dashboards to monitor your most important metrics and KPIs. Whichever metrics and KPIs signal success and progress for your firm, you can use your new practice management software to monitor them.

In this example, a custom dashboard has been setup to track the firm’s marketing spend, how much an average lead and retainer client are costing, and which marketing sources have been the most successful.

You can take the exact same approach for worked, billed and collected rates, total hours billed by lawyer in the firm, or revenue growth rates. Whichever numbers you and your team want to have real-time access to, you can set up.

Wrapping Up

Managing your entire firm through a combination of spreadsheets, file folders and siloed software tools is inefficient, expensive and can leave you open to potentially devastating security breaches.

If you want to jump back up to a certain section, here’s the topics we covered in this guide:

  1. Benefits of law practice management software
  2. What you can do with great practice management software
  3. Connecting new software to existing workflows
  4. How to choose the right software for you
  5. Must-have practice management integrations

And if you’re interested in learning more about how all-in-one law practice management software could help carry your law firm or in-house legal team to new heights, get in touch with a Litify pro today for a demo.

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