Large Law: 11 Considerations in Practice Management Technology

legal practice management

Large Law: 11 Considerations in Practice Management Technology

Practice management is the true backbone of a large law firm’s technology. From time and billing to invoices and reporting, it is the system on which a law firm manages its business, and also encompasses a lot of the ways they interact with their clients.

The decision to procure a practice management solution is obviously significant given the central role it plays in both the day-to-day and strategic operations. However, it is also a lasting decision, it’s a big-ticket technology acquisition that occurs at best once every decade and usually longer. The solution a newly minted partner uses today is likely to be the same system that attorney used as an associate. Once a law firm has committed to a practice management solution, they are essentially wedded to that decision for a while.

“The decision to procure a practice management solution is obviously significant given the central role it plays in both the day-to-day and strategic operations.”

It is a decision that has a lasting impact in several additional ways too. One example is implementation. The implementation can take anywhere from nine months to two or more years depending on the scope of the project. Once implemented, both staff and attorneys will interact with the selected system on a daily basis for much of their tenure with the firm.

Over the next few years, Aderant believes many large law firms are considering making a switch from their current practice management system to something different. Multiple practice management platforms are outdated and several will not continue to be supported by their vendors. In fact, our estimation suggests this will affect nearly half of the Am Law 200.

Three Market Trends Driving Law Tech

If a practice management solution is a decision with such longevity, what is driving the reconsideration now?  In addition to vendors forcing the issue with end-of-life software decisions, based on conversations we’ve had with law firms, we believe there are three primary drivers:

  • A generational workforce shift
  • Fundamentals change to the business of law
  • Advances in modern technology and innovation

First, as an industry, we are in the midst of the largest generational shift in modern history. Millennials are forecasted to be the majority of the workforce in five or so years. This group grew up with mobile devices that have shaped strong preferences in technology, especially around simplicity and ease-of-use.

Millennials anticipate a consistent and responsive user experience (UX) with legal IT across devices from desktop to tablet.  This is because that’s the way it’s always been with their consumer devices.

Second, the business of law is changing as well.  The industry is moving away from the billable hour and gravitating toward alternative pricing, since more and more clients are demanding this pricing structure.  Legacy practice management and financial systems were not designed, or not designed well, to support alternative fee arrangements.  More importantly, legacy systems are not equipped to provide law firms with the data to offer this pricing while maintaining their overall profitability.  In my conversations with C-level Executives and Managing Partners in law firms, it’s often hard for them to answer the question, “What does a billable hour actually cost?”

Finally, technology itself has changed.  Security is paramount and mobility is no longer an afterthought.  Integrations are pivotal to synchronize different data sources in order to uncover new insights and provide a competitive advantage.

An example of this is duplicate sources of data.  Case management and financial management, have long been in separate data points in law firms.  In modern legal technology, having all of your data available is a bare minimum requirement and it is even better when built to work together on the same platform. Clients are demanding more transparency into the business that law firms are actually providing for them.  Having access to not just the case work or the financials, but both, gives clients the true transparency into the work a law firm is doing and the budget they should be adhering to.  At the end of the day, it’s all about efficiency and streamlining processes.

What Large Law is Looking for in Practice Management

As large law firms weigh the available options on the market today, we’ve thought carefully about what our customers have told us they found important.  Here are the most common considerations we consistently see law firms identify:

1)  Collaboration.  Within practice management, collaboration means shared situational awareness across teams and with clients.  We’ve noted law firms are seeking technology options that not only enable them to work more efficiently but to create shared understanding with clients. For example, the ability to flip open a tablet or a computer and show a client, with precision, the progress the firm has made on a matter in terms of results and budget.

2) Automation without coding.  Law firms want to put automation in the hands of the everyday user without requiring them to have coding skills. This means, for example, automated rules that alert an attorney when he or she has used the phrase “legal research” on a time-entry, and that poses the risk of invoice rejection.  It also means a lawyer should have the ability to quickly create automated workflows with nothing more than a few mouse clicks.

3) Mobility.  The notions of where work gets done are changing.  Increasingly attorneys are on the move and need untethered access to their law firm’s systems from wherever they are located.  That experience must also be responsive and consistent across devices.  In other words, the ability to edit a pre-bill on the go should function the same way as if making that edit from a computer in the office.

4) Agnostic integration.  Most law firms have existing investments in technology – and do not want to forgo what they’ve already spent with a new acquisition. As such, integration – whether data is going in or out – ought to be bi-directional and agnostic.  Law firms are seeking vendors and technologies that play nice and work well with one another.

5) Trusted reporting.  Trusted reporting means one single version of the truth.  Often sound reporting flows from seamless integration or technology that’s built on the same platform. Whether that’s analyzing time entry, billing or collection activity, there is no question law firms want assurance as to the veracity of data being surfaced for partners and clients in reporting.

6) Flexibility.  Flexibility is the capacity to customize technology to meet a law firm’s specific needs. For example, practice groups and clients will have their own preferences for workflow, document formats and invoice information.  Law firms want tools to fit their process and requirements, and not be held down to a vendor’s requirements.

7) Security.  Encryption technology has never been more important because people want access to their work product from anywhere. Law firms are seeking practice management systems that provide the ability to set security policies that meet their specific needs.  Especially with the advent of mobility, it is not just the system that needs robust security, but the tablets and laptops used to access firm data as well.

8) Support.  Law firms need to know they will get the technical support they need in a timely fashion, no matter the time of day.  Support is not limited to just technical help with an issue on an emergency basis, but rather the ongoing support for implementation, training and user adoption.

9) User experience.  A system interface has a profound impact on user adoption.  Users will maximize their use of an interface if they like using it.  The user experience however, is so much more than just the interface itself.  It is the entire experience the customer gets with the vendor.  This ranges from product communications all the way to access to vendor executives.  Law firms are looking for a vendor to provide a complete and positive user experience.

10) Evidence of innovation.   Law firms are looking for evidence of innovation in several ways. First, a history of successfully executing on promises and delivering enhancements when they say they will. Second, a mechanism for incorporating customer feedback and a track record of doing it.  Third, law firms want to see a vision, they want roadmap to the future of legal technology.

11) Vendor culture.  Once a technology procurement decision is made, law firms are going to be working with that vendor for a long time.  Law firms want to like the people they are working with for the next 10 or more years.  They want it to be a partnership and not simply a vendor client relationship.  They want to be truly invested in not only the company but the people they will be working with.  Simply said, the people they will be dealing with matters.

A Legal Technology Partner

For a technology decision as significant as choosing a practice management system, the common denominator we see law firms seeking is not a checklist of requirements, rather a true partner.  Law firms are seeking out a vendor to work with them, provide them with superior service and partner with them to provide the technology they need to compete in the future.

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