For almost 14 years, I’ve answered my telephone at the South Carolina Bar and taken questions from lawyers and their staff. Questions about case management software are probably in the top three reasons for calls. (I used to distinguish between practice management software, which includes front- and back-office functions, and case management, which has front-office functions. While I still believe in this subtle distinction, fewer companies and lawyers do. Now I think you can use the terms interchangeably and be understood perfectly.)
A typical call to PMAP might go something like this. You, the caller — perhaps a new lawyer or one with 20 years in a small firm — anticipate a brief exchange and easy answer. You ask me, “Which case management software do you recommend?” and wait with pen poised to write down the one perfect piece of software that fits everyone so you can purchase it without any annoying trials and tests.
It isn’t fun to burst your bubble in our first minute of conversation, but I try to tell you gently that I don’t make blanket recommendations about which product to buy. Why? Because no two firms are identical and neither is case management. However, if I can just get a bit of information about you and your firm, chances are good that there will be one or more products that I’ll suggest you examine on your own.
Questions to Narrow Your Purchase Options
Here are the basic questions that will help us get to that point:
1. Information about you. My questions to you vary, but an important one is finding out “Are you a solo or do you practice with other lawyers?” From there, I have many questions, from practice area, to other software and hardware you use, to obstacles (one attorney is a holdout and doesn’t want new software). Depending on your situation, we could talk for an hour and even plan a follow-up call or email. I’ll give you some “homework” such as taking a software and hardware inventory of your firm.
2. What do you do? A firm can learn a lot about themselves from the homework.. Many have no idea that they have so many different software programs.It’s always important to consider what kind of law is practiced. Many lawyers use software that is specific to one practice area, such as SoftPro. Find out as much as possible about the software your firm currently uses; current software can impact everything from hardware to new licenses. While you’re at it, find out if everyone in the firm will use the new software package or just one practice group.
3. Do you already have the program you need? Ironically, the lawyer from the firm will tell me that they actually already have case management, albeit dated and little utilized. If the firm has case management software, get the story. Chances are it hasn’t been updated, or people never learned how to use it properly, or maybe only one attorney in the firm uses it at all. If you know it to be a good product from a reputable company that is still widely used, try to see if the firm will keep it. If there is any viable chance of keeping the firm’s old case management, it can often save money and time.
4. What’s on it? If the firm is adamantly opposed to using the case management they had in the past, find out How much data is stored in the case management software you have — and is it current? Will you need to transfer it to your new case management program? Many firms don’t realize the best software choice they have may be an updated version of the one they already use. It depends on how much data they had in it and how comfortable the employees are with the product.
5. What is your budget? Most firms deal with technology on an ad hoc basis and sometimes have to take out a loan. You can’t practice law without technology, so budget for new products and training. Technology is a business expense! Put money aside every month and year. New purchasers: Do not immediately assume that the cloud software subscription paid monthly is cheaper than the cost of traditional software. Do the math. While you’re at it, don’t forget to calculate the real cost of ownership. For example: If the software costs $1,000 a year, multiply that by three or four to cover the cost of professional installation, setup, training, transferring old data and more.
As you test various products, you’ll no doubt be bombarded with information about new, cutting-edge features. (See “Tech Tips for Choosing Practice Management Software.”) My favorite quote? “The best case management software is the one you will use.” The next big thing for case management software is already here, especially with cloud products. Ask about the ability to integrate your own forms with the software — or there could be a handful of APIs, like the worthwhile Fastcase, you want to integrate. Keep in mind that more clients will want to be able to log in to the software to view or work on their own files.