An Opinionated View in three (or maybe more) parts
First the Disclaimer
These are my personal opinions, based on twenty-something years (it’s the only way I get to be “twenty-something”) of experience with solos, small and mid-size firms. Since I haven’t actually used any of these programs on a daily basis, I will not assert that every detail is technically correct. My view is through the eyes of my oft-frustrated clients.
Also important to note: as a business advisor to law firms, I regularly advise firms on operations, and because of that, I have made the decision to not affiliate with any CM provider. I don’t get paid by anybody to recommend software. So, here are my thoughts, and any bias is directly from the school of hard knocks.
So What Is the Case Management Software Anyway?
There are three main functions of “case management” software.
1. Time and billing – essentially an accounting function. Some don’t have actual billing, but do provide mechanisms for time tracking.
2. Document, activity, and deadline management. This is the heart of case management software.
3. Contact management. Keeping track of contacts and how they relate to cases, and creation of a database for purposes such as conflicts and marketing.
A fourth function which is rarely included in case management software is document assembly, which can be important to particular practice areas such as estate planning and business transactional work. But don’t confuse this with case management software. It’s either a different animal, or an expensive upgrade to case management.
“Let’s Start at the Beginning, It’s a Very Good Place to Start” (with apologies to The Sound of Music)
So, the place to start is by identifying exactly what your current problems and obstacles are, and what you want to be able to accomplish, before you go shopping for anything.
How Purchase of Software Goes Horribly Wrong
There are five not very complicated reasons why a firm’s good intentions – and a big bucket of money – turn into a house of horrors.
First – they don’t do their homework. They don’t thoroughly research exactly what they need, don’t study the various offerings carefully, don’t do a “test drive,” don’t get adequate references, and consequently they buy the wrong software.
Second – they don’t buy official training, assuming that they can figure it out for themselves, so people are frustrated, misuse or don’t use the software, and start using “workarounds” to avoid it.
Third – they don’t buy an ongoing support and maintenance contract, depriving everyone from good troubleshooting and support, and often resulting in major downtime for the system, and consequent loss of productivity. Some software vendors seem to actually penalize clients who attempt to use the “per call” services instead of buying the more expensive support agreement, and end up with horrendous response – days or even weeks – for troubleshooting.
Fourth – they don’t document procedures in order to standardize the way the software is being used, and to provide an easy guide for new employees.
Fifth – they don’t place a senior partner or administrator in charge of its implementation, and use, and don’t enforce correct use.
The result? An amazingly high level of regret, teeth gnashing and blame for attorneys responsible for making the decision to buy software. While clearly, some software is better and easier to use than others, the real issues are the above. Even harder to use software will be more satisfactory if those five implementation problem areas are addressed. I have encountered literally dozens of firms which have highly capable software of various sorts that they have essentially discarded in frustration, because they didn’t properly address the implementation and operational issues.
So don’t be attracted by the shiny thing some software vendor dangles in front of you. Software decisions and implementation must be addressed in a very careful, thoughtful, and responsible way, or disaster will be the result.
Next Post: What Software Do You REALLY Need? REALLY?