You’re an excellent lawyer, but you’ve always felt like there’s something you could change to make your practice even better. The change doesn’t need to happen in the courtroom, it needs to happen in the way you manage your practice.
Lawyers are trained to be knowledgeable in the law and how to best represent their clients. Unfortunately, lawyers are not always trained in the best ways to run their law practice, which often means law offices settle for managing their firm in suboptimal ways. When it comes to practice management a lot has changed in recent years. Day-to-day tasks which once slowed down the progress of an office can now be handled easily with the aid of technology and legal software. In the past, law firms often struggled to find a technology solution to manage their practice that met the unique requirements and regulations of the legal industry. However, modern lawyers have a myriad of solutions to help them raise the bar in practice management and take their firm to the next level.
Here is a list of key areas that all lawyers should consider when looking for ways to improve their practice and/or implement a practice management solution to help maximize efficiency and gain a competitive edge:
“The newest systems are now truly ‘total solutions’ that handle everything, including back office accounting.”
In the past, “practice management” was a catch-all phrase used to describe several back-office functions including timekeeping, billing, document management, accounting and more. Using multiple systems, even ones that integrate can lead to duplicate efforts, wasted resources, input errors, or inaccurate records.
Eliminate the use of different applications and look for a fully-integrated practice management tool that contains all of these components in one program, including accounting, and billing.
Detailed, accurate information available at the click of a button will provide the data you need to make business decisions. Managing a law firm requires attorneys to keep an eye on a broad number of areas, including revenue, resource allocation and utilization, and matter management.
Practice Management dashboards can show you all of your most relevant information as soon as you log in to your software, making it easy to stay on top of the critical items at your practice in real-time. Customizable reports make sure you can recall and reference the data that your business needs to make smart decisions and stay compliant.
*Locking the filing cabinet at night doesn’t cut it anymore
As law firms digitize more and more of their data, simply entering your password on a website isn’t considered enough security these days given the sensitive information lawyers deal with on a regular basis. When going digital, look for a solution that offers bank-grade encryption and two-factor authentication (where a security code will be sent to a second device via email or SMS text to verify your identity). Many practice management programs also offer backup options which can eliminate IT headaches and help secure your data with automatic, regular backups. Internal security measures such as role-based security and user-based privileges are other features your firm should look for in its software to reduce security risks.
While it may not be ideal for your work-life balance, the reality is that many of today’s lawyers need to be able to work from anywhere at a moments notice. Cloud-based tools and practice management solutions are one way you can access files and matter documents from anywhere.
Any time access isn’t only about getting a hold of those files you need to reference. It’s also about making sure no billable activities fall through the cracks with real-time tracking and inputting. Mobile-friendly programs allow your team to record every second of revenue-building time while keeping your clients happy with your ability to view and communicate their case information from the courthouse, office, or on the road.
Accepting credit card payments helps cash flow by allowing clients to pay right away while providing an option for clients who may not be able to pay by check or who want to rack up those reward points. The requirements of trust accounting require processing fees and the depositing of funds to be handled in a compliant manner, so be sure you find a legal billing and accounting system that includes legal-specific credit card processing capabilities.
For most practices, retainers are their bread-and-butter but making sure the balances are never depleted can be a challenge. The best firms use legal-specific practice management systems that can monitor all client retainer balances with a single click.
Keep your retainers “evergreen,” or always full, with a practice management system that will automatically send low balance reminders to clients once their retainer reaches a particular threshold. Cash flow is critical to a firm’s success but managing it doesn’t need to take up all of your time when you have the right tools in place.
Sending out the firm’s monthly invoices should take seconds, not hours. Firms looking to take their practice management to the next level should find a legal billing system that will generate all client invoices with a single click and email them to clients with another. This will reduce the time your team spends on administrative tasks and free up time to dedicate towards billable hours.
As we’ve already covered in this article: Automation = efficiency and more time for billable hours. Raising the bar when it comes to client collections means utilizing a legal billing software which can send out reminders to clients on overdue invoices — making sure you get paid for your hard work without requiring significant manhours devoted to follow-up. The big picture here is that getting out retainer reminders, regular invoices, and overdue notices should take just a few minutes in total.
Many surveys of legal professionals list “accounting’ as their number one source of frustration. A large part of the issues stems from the generic nature of the accounting solutions on the market. Robust tools such as QuickBooks™ serve general businesses quite well, but the multitude of legal-specific requirements of law firms require a program that can address their needs. Avoid compliance issues and look for a solution that combines legal-specific accounting along with billing.
Most firms have realized by now that creating the same type of legal documents over and over again is a waste of time and resources. Save time by creating basic templates for your firm’s most commonly used documents and forms. Auto-fill technology and merge fields combined with custom templates can save you hours by automatically filling in your case data.
Workflows are another form of law practice automation that successful offices utilize to facilitate the automatic creation of tasks, deadlines, or events as specific triggers occur. As most lawyers have probably noticed, similar cases often require that similar tasks are completed in a particular order. Streamline these processes and never miss a deadline again. For example, when creating a specific type of matter, some practice management programs can automatically assign task lists to legal team members and add deadlines to the case calendar using workflows.
Trust accounting lapses and errors can carry a huge price both literally and figuratively — they can even take down a practice or a career. Many law firms are combating this problem by finding trust accounting software that is legal-specific and has the ability to integrate with their legal practice management and billing system. These fully-integrated practice management systems can have safeguards in place to avoid common legal trust accounting errors, such as overdrafts and failing to apply transactions to the proper client ledger.
The sensitive nature of legal matters often requires secure communication with clients, an obligation that can be difficult for lawyers to fulfill while keeping it simple for clients. The Law Society of Ontario suggests in its Technology Practice Management Guidelines “a lawyer should…use firewalls and security software to protect at-risk electronic information” as well as “use and advise clients to use encryption software to assist in maintaining confidentiality and privilege.” To ensure secure transmission of client communications and documents, look for a practice management system that offers a secure client portal. Clients will receive notification of a message or documents awaiting them and can quickly view the message upon logging in to the portal, avoiding compliance and security issues.
For law firms who are serious about raising the bar and taking their business to the next level, they need to look closely at the capabilities of the tools they are utilizing. With today’s technology, it’s easy to find a modern practice management system that can help automate processes, save time, and provide a competitive edge. The advancement in available tools has leveled the playing field for firms of every size — opening the doors for solo and small firms to have the same efficiencies and technology available to them as the larger firms. The law firms who don’t take advantage of the technology that is available to them will undoubtedly be left behind.
Created specifically for the legal community, CosmoLex provides a fully integrated practice management solution designed to meet the unique requirements of today’s law firm with the latest in technology.
Built-in business accounting and billing, along with trust accounting safeguards, reduce input time and the possibility of errors while keeping your firm compliant. Client portals, credit card processing, and bank-level security help keep clients happy and your data safe. And all of these features reside in a cloud-based environment, giving you the ability to access case files, reference notes, and bill for time no matter where you are.
Combined with CosmoLex’s many automation features, these capabilities will save you hours of time each month. Your office will be able to get back to practicing law and staying productive, all while effortlessly staying compliant and secure.