A number of firms approach me wanting assistance to change their Practice Management System. The first thing I discuss with them is “Why do you want to change”? And invariably the responses fall into one of the following (very wide) categories or both:

  • Poor vendor service
  • The system is not meeting the firm’s needs, and often, there is no thorough roadmap for improvement

Time and again, however, the one thing that has often not happened prior to deciding to move, is a thorough investigation of the current system and its functionalities, such as:

  • Is the firm on the latest version of the PMS software and Microsoft Office etc?
  • Do staff require more training on the PMS and its latest features?
  • Have they engaged with the vendor and discussed the issues to find solutions etc? Now, I understand that sometimes the relationship with the Vendor seems like it has completely broken down, however, there is often someone higher at the company who will want to speak to you.

Changing your PMS is not only expensive in terms of dollars but also time by nature of the internal resources required and disruption to the firm, including your lawyers. It’s something you should consider carefully to ensure you are not just “trading problems”.

Regardless of whether you are considering changing PMS or not, the kind of system efficiencies you should consider having in place in 2021 (if relevant), are listed below. These are even more important in a world of working from home with limited access to printers and other people etc:

Accounting Related

Paperless Finance Transactions – most systems now have an online process for requesting payments (both Office and Trust).  You should be utilising those to save paper and data duplication.  You need to check with your local Law Society, however, in my experience, most if not all jurisdictions are now accepting an online authorisation (as long it can be proven it is by the Partner and not a proxy) instead of wet signature for Trust Accounting payments.  Trust Receipts should be printed to PDF and saved into the DMS and emailed to the Legal Assistant, Lawyer or Client directly when necessary

Imports – most systems can import a bank statement, a journal, or a recurring invoice.  Some also import time entries. These can save countless hours of time in data entry.

Automatic Intercompany Transactions – for those firms that still run a Partnership and Services Trust, I am constantly surprised at how many still post these transactions manually when their PMS does them automatically.

Legal Practice Area Related

Workflows – for those not familiar with workflows, they are essentially the automation of repeated tasks. It can encompass document compilation, timesheet entry, template emails and often many other things. You can set up a workflow to perform a task once another is completed or multiple tasks can be performed concurrently. Firms should start by automating relatively simple admin functions like Cost Agreement compilation. Starting with a few simple workflows and then expanding will give you a better experience than starting with multiple, complex workflows.

Dashboards (or Scheduled Reports) – in this age of information, the numbers you need on a daily and monthly basis should be at your fingertips either within the PMS or via a third-party tool such as Power BI.

Document Assembly Automation – most firms have some form of this. However, a review into their use and trying to template as many commonly used documents as possible is well worth the investment not only from a time but also a risk perspective.

Apps – these will give you access to enter time entries, view progress on a matter and other important parts of your PMS in a mobile format. Client portals are also gaining traction to give a firm’s clients more value and transparency over their matter.

Integrations with other systems such as Settify, Joseph or utilising Clause Library Software for Precedents could be explored. Integration of external specialist legal software with your PMS will mean more streamlined and compliant matter management. Assess your PMS provider’s appetite to integrate with these new systems by asking for new features.

The above is a list of functions that most Practice Management Systems now perform outright or utilise third-party platforms to provide. There is a time investment in some of them to establish, but it is always well worth it. Looking to change your PMS is certainly also a valid path to go down, just ensure you’ve reviewed your current system properly before you do. And if you need advice on either path, I would be very happy to assist you.

About the Author:

Jackie White is a Consultant with 20 years of experience in the legal industry. She specialises in PMS Selection and Implementation. She can also assist with the types of areas noted above which provide process optimisation. Her background is in Finance and has a particular speciality in Trust Accounting. To find out more, contact Jackie via LinkedIn.