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Implementing a case management system

With the economy still recovering, many lawyers are looking into ways to increase their efficiency and productivity. For some, implementing a case management system to organize the many activities of a law office can help achieve those goals.

A case management system—also called a matter or practice management system—is a comprehensive software package that provides a means of effectively managing client and case information, including contacts, important dates, related documents and other information, within a single, common interface.

The program can be used to share information with other attorneys in the firm and ensure data integrity through the prevention of duplicate data entry when used in conjunction with billing programs and data processors. Many of these programs will integrate with your mobile devices so that calendars and schedules are more accessible.  Additionally, some CMS packages are web-based, allowing anytime access to all features.

Choosing a provider

The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center webpage, “Overview of Practice and Case Management Software,” includes a comparison chart of CMS providers in a printer-friendly PDF format.  This handy guide reviews a broad selection of server-based and web-based case management options.  The chart provides an at-a-glance summary of product pricing and key features, and links to vendor websites for additional detail and contact information.

There are many CMS offerings available to lawyers. In order to make a well-informed decision, LTRC suggests turning to The 2012 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide by Sharon D. Nelson, John W. Simek and Michael Maschke.  This annual guide reviews the most essential law practice management hardware and software, and makes clear recommendations.  Their vendor reviews also include pricing information that is not always immediately available to consumers without completing online forms.

The 2012 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide reviews six different vendor offerings including ones from Amicus Attorney, Time Matters and Clio. 

Also offered in the guide is good advice: The authors caution that 100 percent compliance is key to a successful implementation.  In other words, everyone in the firm must be required to use the system for it to be effective.

Questions to ask

When considering a CMS, some questions to ask vendors include: 

  • How will our email application (i.e., MS Outlook, Thunderbird) work with your CMS?  Be sure to ask about how the CMS interacts with MS Outlook public folders, if applicable.
  • How will our other applications (Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect Suite, etc.) integrate with your CMS?
  • How can the system be accessed securely by our remote users?
  • How can remote users synchronize CMS information with their mobile devices?
  • Is there a cloud-based solution?
  • How is CMS data replicated and secured? This question is relevant for cloud-based solutions.

Training

The authors of The 2012 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide advise that when pricing a practice management system, buyers should include the cost of training as well.  Training enables all employees to fully utilize the features of the system.  Whether your firm is migrating from paper processes to automation, or from one service provider to another, training is essential to take full advantage of new functionalities. It is believed that less than 10 percent of an application's capability is actually used in the work place but training can increase that utility percentage exponentially. Whichever CMS is chosen, take advantage of free product offerings and trial periods, and let your power users try it out first to see if the product is right for your firm’s computing environment.

Training for the CMS should include an overview of the system, information on how it interacts with the firm's current environment (Word processing, email, calendar and document management system), and specifics on the CMS functions described above. 

Typical training is one to two days for attorneys and two to three days for staff. The training is usually anywhere from one to three hours per session with a focus on a specific function. The "best" training class is in-house on the firm's computers, using with the firm's own data and including no more than eight to 10 persons at one time.  Many trainers train both attorneys and other staff together to ensure that everyone gets the same information. 

Excerpted from “A Primer on Computerized Case & Matter Management Systems” by Andrew Z. Adkins.

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