Are you trying to decide which software platform to use for your law practice? With so many options on the market, how do you know which one will be the best for your particular practice?
This topic is something that I struggled with over the years, and I know a lot of other attorneys struggle with. We’re constantly bombarded by advertisements for software. There’s a ton of pressure on lawyers and law firms to choose a particular practice management software that’s supposed to be your everything. What I’m going to tell you is I don’t think any one of them are any good.
The first thing I want to talk about today is not feeling guilty or not feeling like you should be able to find the software that work for your practice, because most practices are unique and these out-of-the-book cookie-cutter softwares that companies try to develop simply may not work for you. And that’s okay. It’s okay to say, “Hey, wait, none of this really works for me, and I need to come up with my own software stack.” Then you put it all together, and now you have your own custom group of software that helps you manage and run your law practice.
If any of you out there disagree with me and you think you’ve got the greatest software platform to run a law firm from, please, in the comments, let us have it. Let us know what your software does and why other lawyers should use it, or if you’re a lawyer and you’ve used one, let us know which one you really like.
But what I have found over the years, in running a practice where there’s literally thousands of clients, is that any one of these off-the-shelf software are just so cumbersome to use that we end up spending more time trying to use it than its worth. So we come up with individual software solutions for the different areas of our practice that we need to address.
The Five areas of Your Practice You Need Software For
At my firm, we do not just use one piece of software. It would be impossible for us to use anything that we’ve found, and we’ve tested just about everything, right. And the problem becomes is that, to enter in all the information and to use these software platforms, they’re so clunky and time-consuming. That just doesn’t work for us. So let me go through the software stack that we’ve used and try to show you how you can pool things together to actually make a law firm work extremely efficiently.
I find there’s really five areas that you need to address for any law firm as it relates to software.
- File Management
- Contact Management
What email software should you use in your law firm?
The first, I think, revolves around choosing how you’re going to run your email. I think every lawyer in the world defaults to Microsoft Office, and I get that, but I don’t think it’s the solution going forward. We’ve been using Gmail for probably the last six or seven years. Gmail has an enterprise side to it, and I think it’s fantastic. It takes a little while to get used to, but once you get used to it, the benefit of Gmail is there’s a lot of different plugins that can go with it. You can start to do a lot of really cool things with your email, as far as efficiency is concerned, that you might not be able to do with the Microsoft product. Also, it doesn’t require any kind of server or anything like that. You’re working off of Google servers wherever they may be. And knock on wood, we’ve never really had any downtime in the time we’ve used Google. I think some firms end up having downtime with their email because of a server issue, this, that, or the other. Typically, with Google, it’s an extremely smooth experience. So, I highly recommend you look at that because again, you get out of that Microsoft world, and all of a sudden, a lot more becomes possible.
What file management software should you use in your law firm?
Going right in line with your email is the file management. All the files you create for clients, how do you do that? Again, going back to Google, we use Google Drive. Google Drive allows you to basically store your client files and access them from anywhere that you would log into a computer. I think this is extremely helpful, again, for a number of reasons. One, I don’t have an on-site server that a fire destroys the building and I’ve got a problem. Two, if anything happens to my actual computer I work from, again, doesn’t matter. Move to another computer, log back in, have access to all of the client files we need. Plus, our team can share files. You know, somebody can work on a file and get a paralegal to make an edit to it. You know, if different attorneys need to collaborate on a document, there’s all sorts of collaboration tools. It is a great system, and yeah, there might be others out there, but I can tell you, I doubt there’s any others out there that are as inexpensive as Google Drive when you combine it with Google email to use.
I think if you’ll experiment with Google Drive, there’s more than enough there. You don’t need a formal file management software for most small law firms that are going to be on the boutique side. Now, you start getting into 25, 30 attorneys, maybe you need to look at that solution a little differently, but my experience with a handful of attorneys, a bunch of support staff, more than capable Google Drive is of handling what we needed to do for file management.
What docketing software should you use in your law firm?
The next thing we all really need to be concerned with as attorneys is how are we docketing and calendaring all of our deadlines. In the trademark world, which is where I am, there’s actually programs out there that say, “Hey, if you just put the trademark number in, we’ll docket everything for you.” That’s great, but you know what happened is that the PTO cut off access to their data point, and then all of a sudden, these companies couldn’t guarantee that their information was as up-to-date as it should be. So relying on anybody to help you with docketing, I think, is really always dangerous, because there are so many things that have to go right for that service to continue. So we always look at “Okay, our attorneys are going to set the deadlines, and we’re going to put the item in our calendar, and we’re going to go from there.” We’ve gone through various different iterations with how to calendar and docket things.
One of the innovations that we have used in the past 12 to 24 months is a program called Streak, it’s S-T-R-E-A-K, and it actually integrates with Gmail, going back to my Gmail comment. So what happens is that as we’re working on an email, alongside is essentially the digital file. And we can go in there and set whatever case deadlines we want for a particular case. Just email is open, you’re in there, and we can say, “Okay, we want to be reminded, in six months, we have this deadline. We want to be reminded in 2 months to check on the status.” And as soon as you put those reminders in, what’ll happen is when the deadline comes up or whatever the reminder is, it’ll generate an email to you that comes back in your email box and says, “This is due,” or, “Reminder, you were supposed to check on the status.” So it’s extremely easy. It’s not bulky. I don’t have to open up a whole another software platform, right. I can be on my laptop working away, and it’s right there, “Oh, two deadlines,” and I’m done. As opposed to having to open up a calendaring system, go into it, type it in, make sure I got…it probably saves me several minutes on every email that I’m working on, which when you multiply that over the course of days, weeks, months, and years, is an incredible time saving.
So again, that’s a very custom solution for what we need. It might not work for every law firm, but I don’t think you need a formal docketing software that is made a docketing company. All they are are calendars that send reminders. And think of it that way, and make sure you have something when you use it that’s very reliable, and also make sure you can back it up. I mean, one of the biggest concerns we have with all the deadlines that we have is that if something happens to the software program, how do we know what deadlines are coming up? So we have everything downloaded, we have everything saved and constantly backed up that we could recreate in yet another program should anything happen. So a little bit of continuity issue there, but you know, for any docketing or calendaring system, just remember, don’t feel the need to go to a legal provider for this. I don’t think it’s necessary. You can certainly get it done with other software that traditionally are not used by lawyers, and you may find they’re even better.
What contact management software should you use in your law firm?
The next point I wanted to cover was contact management. We have the contact information in that Streak program so that we know who we’re working with, and that helps us identify, as a client may work with different people on our firm, who the points of contact are for particular issues for a particular client. So we can track all that very easily. And as far as the marketing side goes, if we want to do newsletters, whether it’d be email or print, mailed newsletters, or other forms of advertisements to our client base, we use MailChimp, which basically, a lot of businesses use it just to have their contacts in there and be able to use it for marketing purposes. And it’s something that’s just completely separate from our day-to-day stuff that we do. But this way, here, we’re able to control our mailing list and curate that in a very unique way in it not being integrated with every other moving part of the firm. So there could be very custom things we’re trying to do with that particular list that we can just move the data there and deal with it in that particular program, have our marketing folks deal with it completely separately and out of the hair of all the other stuff that we’re doing from the legal side.
What billing software should you use in your law firm?
And the final point to address is billing, and this obviously critical, and I think this is another area where a lot of these law firm platforms really try to come up with these bells and whistles. But again, all we’re talking about here is tracking time and we’re talking about maybe tracking expenses, and if you’re doing flat rates like we are, tracking what putting those flat rates into a billing software. And we’ve been FreshBooks. Now, I’ll tell you that we have some limitations with it and it’s not the greatest. You know, there’s things that they could do better for us. But if you look at all the other solutions that are out there, just being able to put the client information in FreshBooks, go in there, there’s a little timer that you can use, you can custom enter whatever expenses you need to put in, categorize them however you need to do it, track your payments, track who hasn’t paid you, very, very easy software platform to use. And again, it’s not this cumbersome thing where you have to log into your massive practice management software and figure, get to the billing site for a particular client, and then… It’s always open on the computer, a little timer, dropdown menu, select the client, and you go, and then you record, you know. And it’s very simple to do as you’re working all day long, doesn’t take a lot of time.
So as you can see, we’ve really focused our firm at pulling together efficient ways of doing various different tasks and just having different software programs. I think some people say, “Oh, that’s gotta get confusing,” and it’s really not. I mean, yeah, it might take a week or two for a new employee to get to learn our system, to get to feel comfortable with all the different programs we use, but once you get going, each program is so good at its own particular thing and so efficient at its own particular thing. You’re not dealing with this massive cumbersome gorilla of a program that you just have to work your way through to do little, small tasks.