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Upgrading Practice Management Software: 3 Critical Mistakes Lawyers Make

Upgrading law practice management software helps law firms modernize their practice, gain a competitive edge, and improve their clients’ experience. If you’re planning to switch to a new program, take care to avoid the critical mistakes many lawyers make during the process. Proper preparation will prevent a disaster and ensure a smooth transition, turning your firm into an efficiency powerhouse.

Upgrading to Modern Practice Management Software

Today’s law firms have a wide variety of requirements that their software must fulfill in order to meet increasing client demands. A cloud-based product is often the preferred way to address these needs while increasing the firm’s efficiency. The cloud offers the ability to work from anywhere, and easy-to-use apps for mobile devices grant users access from anywhere and keep cases moving. Cloud products are also able to be constantly improving and pushing out consistent updates while offering features like client portals, online payments, and integrations with other commonly used tools.

Moving to a cloud-based legal software product also reduces your IT worries — regular backups and a self-maintained system can free you from having to remember to apply updates or pay a professional to upkeep everything for you. Eliminate the need for a server and know your documents are securely stored at all times, giving you the opportunity to easily scale as your firm grows. If you’re not sure yet if the cloud is right for your firm, take a look at our Cloud Computing Benefits and Challenges for the Legal Profession.

These benefits are appealing to any firm looking to enhance their practice, but the move should be undertaken with care. A little bit of prevention can eliminate some headaches down the line. Which brings us to the three most common mistakes that law firms make when upgrading their legal practice management software. Here’s what you need to avoid:

1. Choosing the Wrong Provider

While this seems like an obvious tip, the decision of which software to choose is critical as it will play a significant role in the future of your firm and its growth. It’s imperative to select the right program from the start so you’re not wasting valuable time and money down the road to find another replacement for software that you’re unhappy with.

Prevention:

Decide which type of technology works best for your firm, whether it’s an on-premise desktop solution, a hosted solution, or a total cloud environment. You should also consider how the tools of a particular provider work together. Independent tools or tools that require a sync, such as billing software used with Quickbooks, often lack the legal-specific requirements that law firms and Law Societies require, putting the practice at risk for compliance issues. The safest route to ensure compliance while at the same time maximizing the amount of work complete is a fully integrated cloud solution which combines all of the necessary pieces into a single program.

Be careful when evaluating cloud-based solutions, as not all cloud programs offer the same features. It’s common for cloud providers to claim that their program offers “accounting” when really the system is dependant on a sync with a generic, third-party accounting software. Even if the billing and accounting systems are synced, you can run into issues with double data entry inaccuracies — misappropriating client funds, failing to record transactions, and simple typing errors. Ask any potential provider what their solution for these problems may be, as well as how your firm will report on its financial data and run account reconciliations.

Other questions to ask the provider before making a final decision include the provider’s support policies (contact type and turn-around time), service packages, and training availability for new users.

2. Underestimating Migration

Moving data from the old system to the new one is a more complex process than many realize. Even if you’ve only been in practice for a couple of years, your firm has amassed a significant amount of data. Just as important as getting the necessary data moved, is making sure the data is free from errors before the transfer so you’re not starting off in the new program with bad data.

General data such as client information, matters, tasks, contacts, email, and documents all need to be transitioned over. Financial data also needs to come over to the new system (after general data), including billing balances, trust balances and ledger and account data. Compromised of various file types, if the needed pieces aren’t transferred over, the firm can face significant issues when they can’t locate a motion or client ledger down the line.

This entire process of moving crucial data from one practice management system to another will cost time and money. It’s not a simple task, and depending on the state of the data, it could include tedious cleanup.

Prevention:

Keep your firm’s requirements in mind as you initiate the transfer, thinking of every type of file your firm has. Plan a timeline based around the cutoff dates and make sure to correct any errors before the data migration so they aren’t imported into the new system. You may not necessarily need to transfer the full history, but plan to verify the accurate transfer of data in-house to ensure you have everything you need.

3. Failing to Create a Timeline

It’s understandable to want to rush the transition in order to get your firm’s productivity levels up.  It’s also easy for other priorities to arise that push the decision to migrate to the back burner.

Prevention:

Stay on track by creating a timeline and leave adequate time for the decision-making process to make sure you’re getting the right product for your practice. Decide when you’d like the cutoff date to be. Be realistic in this step and consider the time it will take to conduct research and evaluate possibilities, conduct migration, and launch.

When researching and narrowing your list, it’s helpful to demo several products. Many programs offer free trials — take advantage of these to see how easy the software is to use and if it meets your needs. Narrow it down to two or three products and determine who will be involved in the decision-making process. Additionally, the actual migration time will depend on the vendor you select, be sure to discuss this timeline with the software vendor and schedule this in as well.

Upgrade Success

Switching to a cloud-based legal practice management solution can be a game-changer for your firm, providing increased efficiency and more time for your team to focus on billable hours. To make the most of the move, consider all the features you’d like to see and how you’d like the technology to work while creating a reasonable timeline to test, make a decision and conduct error-free migration. With these tasks completed, you’ll be on your way to a smooth transition and increased efficiency and profits. To learn more about upgrading your legal software, watch our full webinar Three Critical Mistakes Lawyers Make When Upgrading LPM Software.

Erica Birstler

Erica Birstler is the Director of Strategic Communications at CosmoLex -- developers of an all-in-one cloud-based legal practice management, billing & trust accounting system specifically designed for solo and small law firms. Erica's degree is in Business Administration and she has nearly a decade of experience in the legal software industry, catering to the specialized technology needs of small to mid-sized law firms. Erica has given numerous presentations across North America on legal technologies such as law practice technology management, cloud computing, and legal billing & trust accounting compliance.