I recently had the privilege of participating in a podcast with three attorneys to discuss, evaluate and demonstrate the benefits of using case management software in a law business.
Time management and organization are two of the key components to efficiency and profitability. The value of organized systems in place to gather and store key data pertaining to client files and other important information cannot be overlooked. The answer to the dilemma of storing all data relating to every client file is the efficient use of case management software.
Why do I emphasize the efficient use of case management software? Because if your firm is going to invest money into buying or using online case management software, it will only make sense if the software will be used for what it was intended. Many employees in firms who do not have a good grasp on using case management software or the training to do so efficiently use these expensive programs as fancy word processing software - much to the detriment of the firm.
There are 6 important things that case management software can help with:
Email, Calendar and Contacts. This information when used as a part of a case management software forms the foundation of the firm’s communication. When this information is managed through case management software, all the systems work together. When an email is prepared, the email can be automatically associated with the appropriate client file, creating a paper trail which is especially important if your firm is paperless. Docketing court dates, depositions or trials done through the calendar and also associated with the client file. Tasks can be assigned to staff in the office and the software maintains a data base and a deadline that will send reminders of undone tasks so nothing is overlooked. Contacts include not only client contacts, but can include opposing counsel, experts and other parties who are maintained in a separate database within the system. As new client files are opened, parties, attorneys, Judges or experts can be associated with a particular client file by drawing that information from the data base. As the contact is associated with a file, all of the relevant contact information will be populated into the electronic file without the wasted time of re-entering information.
Document Management and Generation. This feature allows the firm to store basic templates of motions, pleadings, correspondence and the like within the case management system. While all documents will require editing or formatting with pertinent case information, the basics of the form is available and avoids reinventing the wheel every time a pleading or correspondence needs to be prepared. The pleadings will populate caption, venue and other case particular information from the case information inputted at the time that the client file is opened. This, however, requires that when a client file is opened, all pertinent data in the electronic file is completed. You will not be able to generate complete and accurate documents ready for review, execution and filing if all client information is not accurate or is incomplete.
Sometime ago, a firm had a situation where an associate was rushing through and had prepared a pleading to be sent for the client, and the client was to fill in additional information. The associate did this by way of “cut and paste” (and I know a lot of firms are still doing that) - however, omitted to take out the information from the case she had gotten the document from. The client, who was a brand new client, received something with another client’s very personal financial and other information. The result - yes - the client immediately contacted the firm and asked for a refund, stating that she did not feel that the firm had the necessary precautions in place to protect her confidential or financial information. This is very serious and certainly could have led to a bar grievance.
Client Matter Databases. Conflict checks need to be conducted when the firm is retained by a new client. A potential conflict can arise from work with a potential defendant in a new case, with opposing counsel, a Judge or any number of issues. When a conflict check is performed through a case management system, the conflict check is thorough and will avoid any issues in the future. Client/matter databases allow the firm to run any number of management reports.
Time/Expense tracking and billing. These are back-end functions that are very critical to a law firm. Tracking time and expense on a case, ensuring that timekeepers are meeting quotas, managing billing are all essential office applications that point to the bottom line of the firm. Using a case management system allows the firm to easily track telephone calls, emails, document preparation and all services rendered on a client file and this information will be automatically entered into the billing program. This ensures that all time worked and expenses paid are captured, billed to the client and collected by the firm.
Most case management systems have the ability to set an alert when a client retainer has fallen below a certain amount. This alert should trigger a request for replenishment of the retainer fee to the client, so that your firm is never left with an unpaid balance.
Work Flow, Tasks and Deadline Management. In a law firm, deadlines are critical, most especially statute of limitations. Case management systems enable you to set up tasks, work flows, and default folders. When you open a file, the default folders can populate for the type of case it is - personal injury, family law, criminal, etc. The tasks and deadlines can also be assigned. For example, in Florida there is a 4 year statute of limitations for a personal injury case. The deadline will be set when the file is open and depending on the system you have, you can receive 1 year, 6 month, 30 days, etc. alerts that the statute of limitations is approaching.
Client Portals and Sharing Documents. Case management software allows your firm to share documents with clients through a client portal. Each client receives a user name and password that they can log on and see documents that you share with them. What is the benefit of this? The primary benefit is that the client will see that you are working on their case and can keep up with the status. For some of my clients, the use of this feature has reduced the number of calls from clients asking what is going on with their case.
Avoiding Bar Grievances. Certainly not the least of the benefits is the ability to document what happened in every case file in the event that there you have an unhappy client who files a grievance complaining that there file was handled improperly or they were not kept informed. Case management software tracks all activity on a case file.
There is, of course, a time and money element involved in setting up templates for document automation, setting up tasks, work flows, billing alerts, default folders, etc. I promise you that the time invested in the front end set up of case management software to be used the way it was intended and to its fullest function will be well worth it many times over in the future. I view the hesitation in allotting time and money to set up case management software to a lawyer’s hesitation to delegate work to the most competent, least expensive employee, and training that staff member to do the work. I have clients that say, “it’s faster for me to just do it” - no - it isn’t. If you invest the time and money, the software and the time and money spent will pay for itself many times over in the coming years.
When properly implemented and used by everyone in the firm, case management software can increase efficiency, productivity and thus, profitability. In today’s legal market and the continuing quest to “do more with less” – case management software does pay for itself.
If you need help setting up your case management software, tasks, work flows, billing protocols and document generation, please feel free to contact me at 813-340-9569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I have worked with, and continue to work with firms that need their case management systems to start increasing their efficiency and productivity. I have experience with many of the case management systems available for law firms today and can help you facilitate implementation of the features of your case management software.
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