7 Critical Tips for Selecting the Right Case/Practice Management Software
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK – make sure that the software has the core features you need.
It’s impossible to find what you need until you figure out the features you want in a case management system. Most of the modern case management software on the market today will have the same core functionality, such as contact cards, calendaring, case notes and the like. The difference in these packages will be either in the details of thosae core features or in additional features which can be of primary importance to you. For example, the software you are evaluating will surely have the ability to track statutes of limitations [“SOL”], but does it allow tracking multiple SOLs within the same case and permit you to track them by each defendant? Similarly, most software packages will probably have the ability to add doctors and hospitals to your case, but does the case management system you’re thinking of buying allow “linking” those doctors and hospitals to a specific plaintiff in a multi-plaintiff file?
We put together some important time saving features to look for in your search. Here are a few “must-haves” as you look for case management software:
- Does the system have document assembly? And most importantly, are the templates easy to create?
- What kinds of reporting capabilities are available? Can the reports be scheduled and automatically delivered via emails to whomever you select, whenever you choose to have them delivered?
- How easy is it to find the case you’re looking for? Can you search by different criteria or just by the case name/number? Can you easily search for groups of cases, such as all auto cases opened this year or all cases assigned to a specific attorney which have been settled?
- Does the case management software integrate with applications and services you are using, such as Outlook, eLaw, QuickBooks, your answering service, your medical record retrieval service, your website or your chat service?
2. DECIDE WHERE YOUR SYSTEM WILL BE LOCATED
You need to decide between a cloud based, client-server or private cloud system. Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages. You’ll need to decide for yourself what system is best for you.
Cloud based systems are easily accessible from anywhere and don’t require local installations. Remote access is via a browser. Their pricing model is usually based on monthly fees, so you don’t have a large upfront cost. But such systems might lack important features and can make certain aspects or your work more complex and slow (working with documents, for example, is slower as the documents have to be downloaded locally to your computers before they can be worked with). Almost none of the cloud-based systems are designed for a specific industry and, therefore, will lack those industry-specific features you want. Also, if you will be using the system for a number of years, you might end up paying more compared to the one-time purchase of your own client-server system.
Client-Server systems are installed on your own server, but they also have a component that must be installed and maintained on each workstation. This makes upgrades and maintenance more complicated and limits the ability of a software manufacturer to provide frequent updates, as they are more cumbersome. You will have to expect your own IT staff to be heavily involved in any such upgrades, as the software has to be installed on each workstation individually as well as being added to the server. Accessing a client-server system from outside of your office is often more complicated than with a cloud-based system. You might have to connect to your office computer using third-party software, such as Citrix or Remote Desktop.
Private cloud systems use a hybrid approach that tries to get the best of both worlds. Such systems are installed on your server, but the client software is browser-based, so you don’t need to install client software on each of your workstations. You are in control of your data, but you can also choose to make it accessible from outside of your office. You can look up your cases using your laptop in a hotel room or even on an iPad while sitting in court. The upgrades are easy, since only the server needs to be upgraded, while the advanced functionality (integrations, document generation, scanning, editing) is also available, as everything is on your own server and easily accessible.
3. GET A DEMO AND INVOLVE YOUR PARALEGALS.
Talk is cheap, but luckily you don’t have to rely on the word of the sales representative. Get an in-depth demo of the systems that you put on your shortlist after making the feature-based review we discussed above. Don’t do this alone. Involve your paralegals. They have a vested interest in having software that makes their jobs easier. Best of all, they know where the “pain-points” are in case management software. An experience paralegal has seen a variety of bad piece of case management software and knows the difference between promises and reality. You are not going to have a successful case management system implementation if your staff doesn’t accept it. During each demo, make sure that you see all the functionality that is important to you and your firm. Watch out for any time-wasters or complicated steps that are need just to perform actions that are needed multiple times a day.
4. KEEP A LIST AND MAKE NOTES.
Before the demo, ask your staff what they would like their next case management application to do; things that your current software does not do or does not do well. Make sure you communicate that list to the prospective vendors in advance, so they can address all these “wish list” items during the demo. As you go through the demo, check off these wish lists features as you see them demonstrated. Also, when evaluating software, keep a separate list for the “game-changers” – features that you can’t live without and will make your life easier. Remember: Things that go smoothly and quickly make you money; things that are awkward and time-consuming cost you money.
5. CHECK HOW OFTEN IS THE SOFTWARE UPDATED.
Good case management software is updated on a regular basis with meaningful enhancements because updating means that the developer not only listens to its clients, but is dedicated to making its software better. Be sure to ask if there is an additional cost associated with the upgrades or are they included in the annual maintenance? If the software vendor does not upgrade its application at least once a year with meaningful enhancements, maybe it’s time to move on and eliminate that vendor from consideration. A good developer will spend the money to keep its software package at the forefront. Ask the vendor to show you the list of new features added during the previous year. Review that list carefully to see whether the changes that were made were meaningful and if an additional cost was involved.
6. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
Don’t go for the cheapest system any more than you would buy the cheapest car. You are selecting a sophisticated case management system that will act as the “silent partner” in your office; an application that will help that office run more efficiently and better serve your clients. That’s not to say that buying the most expensive system is the correct choice either. Utilize a balanced approach and estimate the savings, not only in dollars but also in time you will obtain year after year, from implementing the right system. Need an example? Let’s say you decide to save $2000 and go with a system that doesn’t have document assembly or barcode scanning. Now you and your paralegals are wasting minutes and hours doing things that could have been done in seconds or minutes. Just those few features alone can save at least an hour or two in the typical day of each paralegal in your office. That’s a quarter of their salary, or the need to hire a forth paralegal for the work that could’ve been easily done by three. You do the math.
7. DON’T SAVE ON TRAINING AND IMPLEMENTATION SERVICES.
Getting the right system is just the first step, but to take full advantage of the case management system you just paid for, your staff will need to be trained and you need to have the system configured to match your office’s specific needs. Avoid the companies that try to sell you a case management system as simple “out-of-the box” software. It’s not. A quality case management system is not a word processor. Your staff needs adequate training before they start using the new system. You should also consider buying implementation services either from the software manufacturer or a qualified third party consultant. That will help you streamline the implementation process and get the most out of the system you purchased. . Finally, don’t forget what level of data conversion from your current application you are being offered. You don’t want to start from scratch. You want your next case management system to start right in where your old system left off.
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