Breaking Down Barriers to a More Efficient Legal Practice
Most attorneys today understand that a good case management platform can improve efficiency, saving the firm time and money. Yet, law firms have been slow to adopt the tools that could streamline their practices and increase profitability. Data from the 2016 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report revealed that fewer than half of U.S. attorneys practicing on their own or in law firms currently have access to case management platforms.
The rate of use varies by firm size, with medium-sized law firms the most likely to employ case management platforms. Still, that leading category reported availability of case management software in their law firms at a rate of just 62%, and that reflected a significant increase over 2015. 46% of solo practitioners and small law firms employ case management platforms, and 51% of large firms.
Of course, the legal profession is not known for being quick to change. Caution and tradition undoubtedly play some role in the industry’s underutilization of this powerful technology. However, for many firms, the perceived barriers have simply been too high. Already packed schedules, concerns about transition time and uncertainty about the security of browser-based platforms have all created obstacles to adoption—even for law firms that are well aware of the advantages a well-tailored case management system would offer.
The Benefits of a Strong Case Management Platform
The specific benefits that will be most valuable to your law firm depend on a variety of factors, including the nature of your practice, the number of attorneys and staff members in your firm, the size of your caseload and the other systems your firm employs. Some of the key advantages that impact productivity, employee morale and your bottom line include:
Remote Access: The ability to access case files from anywhere with an Internet connection is convenient and offers you flexibility in the way you work. You can even access case files from your smartphone. However, this flexibility means more than just being able to opt to work from home in your pajamas some morning or to easily check up on case progress while you’re on vacation. Remote access also enhances your ability to be responsive to clients and allows you to efficiently access information during negotiations or even a break in trial. Browser-based or cloud-based access (your choice) also makes it possible to share files and collaborate in real time with staff in different locations. That’s a priority for many law firms: in 2014, the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) reported that 57% of firms ranked “supporting a mobile workforce” among their top 10 IT priorities for the decade ahead.
Increased Efficiency: The right case management platform for your firm will increase the efficiency of your day-to-day operations in many ways. For instance:
- Easy access to well-organized case files saves you the time and frustration required to rummage through thick paper files or disorganized computer folders in search of the document or information you want;
- Instant attachment of new documents and correspondence to the case file means there’s no lag in relevant information getting into the file—the information you need is at your fingertips any time a client or opposing counsel calls;
- Templates, with merge codes and tagged fields, save you from repeatedly recreating commonly-used documents or manually filling in the blanks in templated documents;
- Integration with tools you use regularly, such as email and document-creation software, seamlessly places all relevant information in one place; and
- The clear and consistent structure of case management files means you’ll know right where to find what you need, and missing information is immediately obvious.
Ability to Quickly and Easily Update Clients: Every year, hundreds of attorney malpractice claims are filed and disciplinary complaints lodged based on poor attorney-client communications. As a busy professional trained in logical analysis, your inclination is probably to keep your focus on cases with activity. Clients, however, experience cases differently, and much more emotionally. They need to know that the case is under control, and that you haven’t forgotten them. The right integrated case management platform will allow you to quickly and easily use templated updates to keep your client informed, send copies of documents with a few clicks and even schedule automated communications at intervals or based on a triggering event such as the filing of a pleading.
Tickler Systems and Calendar Integration: Calendaring may seem like a simple task and one that doesn’t require integrated case management systems. After all, law firm “tickler” systems predate case management platforms by decades. But, how effective are those older, manual systems that don’t directly integrate calendars with case files? The 2010 Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, compiled by the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability, lists “failure to calendar properly,” and “failure to know deadlines” as two of the 10 most common triggers for legal malpractice claims.
The Data You Need to Improve: A case management platform with strong reporting tools will allow you to measure everything from the effectiveness of your marketing efforts to the performance of your staff attorneys, paralegals and others tasked within the system. Good data drives good decisions, which means that well-constructed reports will allow you to increase efficiency and profitability in a variety of areas not tied directly to the productivity gains the tools provide.
Of course, each legal practice is somewhat different and so is each case management platform. These are only a few of the core benefits a law firm should look for in selecting case management software—and that a law firm that hasn’t made the switch is missing out on.
Perceived Barriers to a More Efficient, More Profitable Practice
One of the most significant barriers law firms face with regard to the adoption of case management platforms is procrastination. The practice of law is deadline-driven, and clients can be demanding. It may seem that there are never enough hours in the work day, even when the work day spills over into the evening. Unlike many of the barriers to entry, which are largely a matter of perception, this one is a real problem. However, it is also one of the worst possible reasons for delaying implementation of an efficient case management system. Being too busy to introduce time-saving measures is both self-defeating and self-perpetuating.
Other commonly reported obstacles need not be the deterrents they are perceived to be. These include:
The Difficulty of Transitioning to the System: Law firms often find aspects of the transition to a new case management system daunting. Common concerns include the time and effort involved in transferring current cases into the system, staff buy-in and training requirements. Of course, any kind of transition and implementation of a new system, technology-based or not, requires some investment. However, you can expect a net gain on your time investment in fairly short order, given the efficiencies added by a good system. And, don’t forget that companies providing this type of product are enablers and problem solvers. You may be surprised by the assistance they can offer or systems they have in place to ensure that your transition is a smooth one.
Security Concerns: Law firms, like any business that handles confidential or otherwise sensitive data, must be extremely security conscious. Because many attorneys do not fully understand how browser-based hosted systems or cloud systems work, there is often a generalized unease in play when it comes to moving client data into a case management platform. Those concerns are the mark of a responsible and ethical attorney, but they need not become an impenetrable wall. Research into the platform you are considering will either set your mind at ease or confirm that you should look elsewhere for the tools you need.
How SmartAdvocate Breaks Down Barriers
SmartAdvocate case management software is designed specifically for litigation firms, including personal injury, mass tort and medical malpractice firms. We understand the difference good case management software can make, because ours was developed by a successful plaintiff’s personal injury firm for their own use. We also understand that changing the way you manage your cases can be intimidating, and we don’t want perceived barriers to become real barriers to the success and growth of your law firm.
Here’s how we can help:
Case Migration Services: Our in-house team converts and migrates case data from your existing systems, so that your current files are intact and ready to go the day you begin using SmartAdvocate. We have converted data from most popular systems, and can even migrate data directly from your spreadsheets, convert your existing document templates and link your existing documents to SmartAdvocate. Once you are up and running, all key functions will be performed from within the platform and recorded in the case file. You’ll never have to shift from one program or platform to another to pull together information or locate documents.
Quick, Simple Creation of New Case Files: Our Case Wizard system allows for quick, easy and complete new case intakes. It eliminates the need to take down the information once and then enter it into the system separately, saving time and reducing the opportunity for error. SmartAdvocate, when installed on your server, is browser based, so an investigator or attorney can input the information remotely. Similarly, the newly introduced cloud-based version of SmartAdvocate gives users the ability to access and input data remotely.
Comprehensive Training and Help Options: Although the system is straightforward and easy to use, we don’t leave you on your own to figure it out. Users receive access to an extensive library of instructional videos, as well as a thorough user manual/help function. If you or your staff need additional assistance, we also offer personal training for a fee.
Security: We are always conscious of the importance of protecting your data, and strive to ensure that you can do so in the manner that works best for you. With SmartAdvocate, you have the choice between a browser-based hosted system that allows you to manage data security and a cloud-based version with bank-grade security.
SmartAdvocate for Your Litigation Practice
If you’ve been holding off on implementing comprehensive case management software due to time constraints, concerns about the efficiency of the transition process or reservations about security, it’s time to reconsider. Every day that you stay with your old, inefficient, piecemeal system is a day you are losing time and money to unnecessary tasks and duplication of effort. Make the decision today to give yourself, your attorneys and your staff the tools to create better organized and more complete files, save time and avoid costly errors.
SmartAdvocate® is an incredibly powerful, web-based, fully integrated case management system. Initially designed principally for personal injury and mass tort litigation practices, SmartAdvocate® is now used by a wide range of litigation firms.
SmartAdvocate® was designed by attorneys who understand the challenges that legal professionals face in terms of case management. It allows firms to completely manage their cases, no matter how complex or voluminous. SmartAdvocate® clients can store, track, manage, classify case information and documents, and communicate in a manner that allows them the highest level of success, and its myriad of reports give law firms the tools to effectively manage their practices.